Australian Researchers Invent 20-Minute Coronavirus Blood Test

SYDNEY (Reuters) -
A coronavirus disease (COVID-19) drive-through testing facility is seen in Melbourne, Australia as the State of Victoria experiences an outbreak of cases. (AAP Image/Daniel Pockett via Reuters)

Researchers in Australia have devised a test that can determine novel coronavirus infection in about 20 minutes using blood samples in what they say is a world-first breakthrough.

The researchers at Monash University said their test can determine if someone is currently infected and if they have been infected in the past.

“Short-term applications include rapid case identification and contact tracing to limit viral spread, while population screening to determine the extent of viral infection across communities is a longer-term need,” the researchers said in a paper published in the journal ACS Sensors on Friday.

The research team was led by BioPRIA and Monash University’s Chemical Engineering Department, including researchers from the ARC Center of Excellence in Convergent BioNano Science and Technology (CBNS).

Their test, using 25 microlitres of plasma from blood samples, looks for agglutination, or a clustering of red blood cells, that the coronavirus causes.

While the current swab test is used to identify people who are infected with the coronavirus, the agglutination assay – or analysis to detect the presence and amount of a substance in blood – can also determine if someone had been recently infected, after the infection is resolved, they said.

Hundreds of samples can be tested every hour, the researchers said, and they hope it can also be used to detect antibodies raised in response to vaccination to aid clinical trials.

A patent for the innovation has been filed and the researchers are seeking commercial and government support to scale up production.

Meanwhile, Australia‘s Victoria State on Friday reported a record daily increase in COVID-19 cases while neighboring New South Wales said it was banning dancing at weddings as authorities struggle to contain a new wave of infections.

Victoria, which has forced nearly 5 million people in the country’s second most populous state into a partial lockdown for more than a week, said it has found 428 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours.

Such is the size of the Victoria outbreak, Australia posted its biggest one-day rise in new COVID-19 infections since late March even with several states still to report.

The findings stoked expectations Victoria will be forced to implement tougher restrictions on its residents, which in turn will damage Australia‘s national economy. “We are in the fight of our lives,” Victorian Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos told reporters in Melbourne.

Australia has recorded just over 11,000 cases of COVID-19.

The death toll rose to 116 after the death of three people in Victoria on Friday, still well below many other countries.

Less than a month ago, Australia was widely heralded as a global leader in combating COVID-19.

But security lapses in Victoria led to people returning from overseas spreading the virus, prompting an inquiry into how the state went from the brink of eradicating the virus to soaring infection numbers.

Victoria State Premier Daniel Andrews is under mounting pressure, with one of Australia‘s biggest-selling tabloid newspapers running a front page with the headline: “Dan-made disaster.”