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Researchers at McMaster University developing 30-minute home test for COVID-19

This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab.
This undated electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health in February 2020 shows the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, yellow, emerging from the surface of cells, blue/pink, cultured in the lab. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP, NIAID-RML

A team of Ontario researchers say they’re working on a 30-minute home-based COVID-19 test that could hit the market soon.

John Brennan, director of the biointerfaces institute and professor at McMaster University, says the concept is to come up with something new that offers an alternative to current lab-based tests that take days to get results.

“Because all of the tests require sample collection, followed by sending it to a central lab, there are delays of up to 10 days to get answers back,” said Brennan.

READ MORE: A look at when and how Canada could reopen after COVID-19 closures

The new test uses a different method of identifying infection than the current nasopharyngeal swab kits which require the subject to endure a swab through to the back of their nose, according to researchers.

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The kits McMaster is developing would have two vials of reagents and a test strip that looks similar to those used in a pregnancy test.

The strip simply needs a small sample of mucus which would then be inserted into a small vial of liquid which would break samples of the virus apart, says Brennan.

“We then take those contents, pour it into a second vial that has a unique combination of chemicals, which then takes the genetic material of the virus, amplifies it at room temperature and produces an output that we can detect by simply dipping our pregnancy test device in.”

After about 30 minutes, the test strip should produce one line on a readout if a subject is negative and two if positive, according to researchers.

Brennan says the new viral test kit is a simple conversion from a bacterial test kit for E. coli and C. difficile university researchers were already developing.

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READ MORE: More than 1,000 people have died in Canada from COVID-19

Unlike the recently approved Spartan rapid portable test cube, the group at McMaster are hoping their final product can be shipped directly to users through online stores and other means, without a subject having to see a physician.

However, rollout of the product will depend on finding the right manufacturer to produce tens of thousands of test kits each day and approvals of the final product by Health Canada.

If approved, Brennan says the test kits could potentially be used in a number of scenarios.

“You could order through Amazon and ultimately do the test at home, or someone coming in from another country can be tested right at the airport when they land, you could also have this on cruise ships. So you can see a lot of scenarios where a very simple kind of 30-minute test might be very useful.”

The researchers at McMaster expect the first kits will be ready to send to Health Canada for approval in about two months.

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