New portable test could diagnose COVID-19 in minutes, differentiate between strains

A woman in a mask holds a test tubed marked 'COVID-19'
The test was developed by researchers in California. Photo credit: Getty

A new screening test could diagnose COVID-19 in minutes and identify which strain it is.

The new test, dubbed NIRVANA, has been described as faster, cheaper and more portable than nasal swabs. 

It's being developed by researchers at the Salk Institute in California. 

"This is a virus detection and surveillance method that doesn't require an expensive infrastructure like other approaches," said Professor Juan Carlos Izpisua Belmonte.

"We can accomplish with one portable test the same thing that others are using two or three different tests with different machines to do."

Researchers tested ten samples known to be positive for COVID-19, as well as 60 samples of unknown status and samples of wastewater that harboured the virus.

In all cases, the NIRVANA device correctly identified which viruses were present. 

NIRVANA could screen 96 samples at the same time - testing simultaneously for COVID-19, influenza A, human adenovirus, and non-SARS-CoV-2 human coronavirus. 

The researchers say in just 15 minutes, the device begins to report positive and negative results. And within three hours, the device finalises results on all 96 samples.

The data also allowed researchers to narrow down the origin of SARS-CoV-2 in positive samples; differentiating strains from China and Europe

The researchers say its small size and portability would make it perfect for fast virus detection at schools, airports or ports.

Researchers are now analysing the initial cost of commercialisation and the constant tweaks the machine would need to ensure it could detect new variants to see if it's worthwhile enough to develop further.