Philadelphia doctor develops rapid COVID test with results on smartphone

Dr. Ping Wang's test uses nasal swabs and something called "microbubbling."
PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- As the world was shielding itself from COVID-19 in 2020, Dr. Ping Wang and her team at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Medicine were studying it on a microscopic level.

"It's pretty scary, I have to be honest, especially in March. That's when the entire university shut down," said Dr. Wang, a professor of pathology and laboratory medicine.

She knew she had the research to help, and her main tool is already in your pocket.

"The other cool thing about the technology is we only need to use smartphones, which is something everybody has," she said.

Before the pandemic, she had already been researching how patients could use their phones to get highly accurate diagnostic testing for different diseases at home. It's something lacking in our testing toolbelt against COVID-19.

"The PCR is great. It's sensitive, but at the same time, it's only residing in the core laboratories. So you can't really do PCR at home for most settings," she explained.

Her test uses nasal swabs and something called "microbubbling." The more virus a person has, the bigger the bubbles show up on your device's camera.

Out of 4,000 samples, the test was accurate 97% of the time, which is on par with PCR testing.

Dr. Wang's dream for this technology goes far beyond the pandemic. She says it will allow more diagnostic tests to be performed at home and that will be a game-changer for patient care and access.

"We can adapt our technology for all those needs. I think in the long run that's where we're going," she said.

There's still a long process before Dr. Wang's research becomes available. It's currently under FDA review for emergency use authorization in labs, and they have yet to submit for approval as an at-home test. She believes it will eventually change health care as we know it.

"I think that confidence gave me the motivation to push this through," she said.

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