June 19, 2024

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Research explores how smartphones can become part of COVID-19 test kits

STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. — The combination of a smartphone app and COVID-19 test kit could be a game-changer for affordable disease detection, a group of researchers said.

A team of scientists at University of California, Santa Barbara, published a peer-reviewed study in the journal JAMA Network Open that showed its system succeeded in accurately detecting COVID-19 at levels akin to PCR testing — at a much cheaper cost.

The test delivered results in 25 minutes and costs less than $7, compared to $10 to $20 for rapid antigen tests and $100 to $150 for PCR tests.

“As new COVID variants emerge globally, testing and detection remain essential to pandemic control efforts,” lead author Michael Mahan said in a release. “Nearly half the world’s population has a smartphone, and we believe that this holds exciting potential to provide fair and equal access to precision diagnostic medicine.”

The process — called SmaRT-LAMP — requires a smartphone, an app and a test kit to ascertain results.

A dish included in the test kit holds a small saliva sample that is placed on a hot plate before a solution is added that reacts with an LED light inside a cardboard box. The app is then programmed to use the phone’s camera to measure the reaction and achieve accurate results, the researchers said.

While the initial cost is around $100 to set up the system, individual tests could then run for less than $7, the study said.

Research explores how smartphones can become part of COVID-19 test kits

Illustration: University of California, Santa Barbra

Scientists said the test could be adapted to detect other diseases and COVID-19 variants.

“SmaRT-LAMP can detect COVID-19 and can be readily modified to detect novel CoV-2 variants and other pathogens with pandemic potential, including influenza,” said Charles Samuel, one of the researchers.

To test the system, University of California Santa Barbara researchers gathered samples from 20 symptomatic COVID-19 patients at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, along with additional genetic samples from 30 asymptomatic people. The research, which included a small number of participants, was compared against blind samples and showed the test performed with 100% accuracy.

“We hope technologies like this offer new ways of bringing state-of-the-art diagnostics to underserved and vulnerable populations,” said David Low, one of the study’s authors.

The technology and methods used by the researchers are openly available, and the app, Bacticount, is available on the Google Play store. An NBC News report indicated the scientists hope an iOS version will be available in the future.

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