UPenn working on rapid COVID test that delivers results within minutes

ByHeather Grubola WPVI logo
Friday, May 21, 2021
Researchers developing low-cost RAPID diagnostic test for at-home use
A team at Penn is working on a technology to create a device at low-cost that would quickly be able to detect infection.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- Imagine being able to test for COVID-19 or other viruses using an app on a smartphone and getting the results within minutes. That's the goal of a new test being developed by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania.

"This particular one is made out of cardboard, so it's recyclable and low cost," said Cesar de la Fuente, Ph.D.

De la Fuente said that a small chip can be made on a printer similar to a 3D printer. A sample from saliva or a nasal swab can then be placed on the end. Then that's connected to a mini-machine with a USB drive.

"It allows you to connect further to your phone, where through an application through an app you would be able to visualize whether your sample was infected or not," he said.

De la Fuente said those results are ready within four minutes. He and his team at Penn Medicine developed the diagnostic test, now called RAPID, with an accuracy rate of about 90%.

At the beginning of the pandemic, testing in the U.S. was failing. Sites were difficult to access, the technology was expensive and labs took hours to days to process results.

De la Fuente said having a low-cost, quick testing system is essential to help stop the spread of the virus especially in countries with uncontrolled spread and not enough vaccine.

"Brazil and India come to mind at this particular moment," he said.

The team is seeking authorization from the FDA and fine-tuning. They're also expanding it to test for other infections. The future goal is to allow people to use the RAPID test at home as often as necessary.

"You can empower each individual to have knowledge about their infectious status and they can make decisions based on that information," he said.

It's not ready for prime time yet but de la Fuente said the RAPID test could also be helpful in schools, office buildings or concert places where a lot of people come together.