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Researchers are developing a cheap COVID test for smartphones

Image for article titled Researchers Develop COVID Test Using a Smartphone to Get Cheap Results

Photo: Matthias Balk (Getty Images)

If you are also someone who has been waiting in line timer to get and COVID test-or face similar frustrations try to buy them at your local pharmacy—then you are lucky. A team of scientists from the University of California, Santa Barbara say they've developed a new kind of COVID testing system that involves only some basic lab equipment and an app on your phone, while still potentially boast of the accuracy you would get with a PCR test.

And unlike these tests, this is the new system - which was described in one new paper in the JAMA Network Open journal — will not add hundreds of dollars to your medical bill. Instead, the research team says their entire system, called the "smaRT-LAMP," can be set up for less than $ 100, plus the price of the smartphone you need to run the app.

the app, Bacticount, uses a person's mobile phone camera to detect the presence of bacteria in a person's saliva. Here's how it works: a person fills their saliva in a test kit that sits on top of a hotplate and falls into a specific reactive solution designed to amplify viral RNA that may be in that saliva - a process called "loop-mediated isothermal amplification" . " or LAMP for short. After being appropriately LAMP-infected, these samples were then covered with a cardboard box with an LED light glued to the top.

Next, that smartphone camera peers at the top of the box and ideally it will be able to see color reactions indicating whether or not their saliva samples test positive for COVID-19. When pathogens are present, probes present in the solution bind to it and fluoresce with a bright red light. The more pathogens that are present, the faster the saliva mixture fluoresces, and the faster the app will detect it. A person's viral amount is then estimated based on how fast the bright light began to shine.

All in all, the researchers say that each test with this seton should cost a relative frugal $ 7 pr. pop. The only downside is that the app is only compatible with Samsung Galaxy S9 smartphones right now due to the model's specific camera calibrations - but more phones could be possible in the future.

Image for article titled Researchers Develop COVID Test Using a Smartphone to Get Cheap Results

Illustration: University of California, Santa Barbra

It is worth noting that this method - and the paper - is based on a beautiful small sample size: 50 patients. Yet these early results are promising; according to the research team, the test was not only an accuracy match for the PCR tests you can get at your average doctor's office, but could even be easily modified to detect new COVID variants or other pathogens, such as influenza.

The lead researcher on the project, Dr. Michael Mann, told Gizmodo that although the test was originally designed for "resource-constrained settings" - think of rural hospitals or sites without proper test infrastructure - it could easily be adapted for testing in people's homes. And quite frankly the sold out tests in the stores considering, and ongoing problems plagues the Biden administration's plans to distribute free tests to people across the country, something like this could be just what we need.


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