EFE/Francisco Guasco

Researchers from the National Polytechnic Institute have designed a quick test to detect infection by the new coronavirus. This device, which can connect to a cellphone to inform your doctor of the result in real time, would prevent people from having to go to hospital and exposing themselves to contact with seriously ill people.

The test recommended by the World Health Organization is RT-PCR, which indicates the presence of genetic material from the virus. However, its cost and the need for specialized facilities mean access is limited.

The team from the Center for Research and Advanced Studies (Centro de Investigación y de Estudios Avanzados, Cinvestav) explain that the device uses the RT-LAMP technique to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in situ. It generates a result in approximately 15 minutes if someone has an active infection, as it exponentially amplifies a viral gene in a specific manner.

Researcher Roberto Ruiz Medrano says that unlike the technique suggested by the WHO, in which the test is subjected to different temperature cycles, the one used by Cinvestav allows the virus detection mixture to be incubated at 65 degrees Celsius. As it doesn’t require sophisticated equipment, it can be performed wherever patients to be diagnosed happen to be.

Development of the test began in January, and researcher Beatriz Xoconostle Cázares says that the application of this type of rapid testing ‘would be suitable for patients who are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms. If they had this option for diagnosis, they wouldn’t need to go near hospitals that have seriously ill patients.’

Rapid diagnosis would help to maintain isolation to limit the spread of the disease. This specialist said that contagion can occur through people with asymptomatic infection, so ‘identifying carriers of the virus is an important aspect.’

As to the device, the researcher explained that it is portable and contains a heating element similar to that of an iron, which ensures that it stays at a constant temperature of 65 degrees Celsius. This is connected to a cellphone via the Android system, which allows you to download a special program to see progress in real time and share the result with an attending physician on completion.

The next step is to request validation from the Institute of Epidemiological Diagnosis and Reference (Instituto de Diagnóstico y Referencia Epidemiológicos, InDRE). Once this has been granted, the test can be applied by hospitals and laboratories.