Portable coronavirus kit to test NHS staff "available in weeks", says Norwich Research Park scientist

20 March 2020

A portable coronavirus test kit that takes just 50 minutes from sample to result could be available for use on NHS staff within weeks.

The kit, which works from a throat swab sample, is a molecular test to establish if a person currently has Covid-19.

It could be used in a hospital anteroom, processing 16 samples at a time and displaying the result on a smartphone.

Dr Justin O'Grady, research group leader at the Quadram Institute on Norwich Research Park, said the test kit aims to help self-isolating medical staff return to work as quickly as possible. Also, he said the tool will ensure those at work are not spreading the virus. He explained:

"With most testing, results are taking 24 to 48 hours because they're tested centrally

"It's difficult to broadly state the testing time, but it'll take at least a day to get results whereas we can get a test result in 50 minutes."

Dr O'Grady, who's an associate at the University of East Anglia, started developing the kit earlier this month with microbiologist Jonathan Edgeworth at Guy's and St Thomas's NHS Foundation Trust in London.

It is hoped that a pilot study will begin to test staff at St Thomas' Hospital by the middle of next week, Dr O'Grady said. The hospital will then "rapidly make a decision whether that's working well".

He hopes to the test will be implemented in hospitals in "two weeks or so".

"We have to be careful of health and safety and we have to be sure we have a test that performs to a certain standard but these are extraordinary times so we would try to do that and get that process validated as quickly as we could."

He said a semi-skilled healthcare professional would run the tests, and they could be carried out near to patients.

"We have to be careful of health and safety and we have to be sure we have a test that performs to a certain standard but these are extraordinary times so we would try to do that and get that process validated as quickly as we could."

The work is currently being funded by various existing grants within departments, with no official funding at present.