Testing for presence of coronavirus. Tube containing a swab testing for COVID-19.

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Until a vaccine is available, coronavirus infection and antibody tests are the best tools the world has to get back on track. Researchers in Australia say a new test for COVID-19 uses blood plasma and can detect positive cases in just 20 minutes.

A team at Monash University reports this new test is highly reliable and can detect if someone had the SARS-CoV-2 virus even after the infection has cleared. The exam relies on a side-effect of COVID-19 cases scientists see in positive tests — red blood cells that clump together. The clusters are relatively large and are visible to the naked eye.

Coronavirus blood test
Dr Simon Corrie with COVID-19 positive and negative blood samples. (Courtesy: Monash University)

“This simple assay, based on commonly used blood typing infrastructure and already manufactured at scale, can be rolled out rapidly across Australia and beyond. This test can be used in any lab that has blood typing infrastructure, which is extremely common across the world,” says Dr. Simon Corrie in a media release.

Hundreds of coronavirus tests in an hour?

Since the test can detect if someone was infected a few weeks ago, a positive reading indicates the presence of antibodies which are battling the SARS-CoV-2 infection. The speed of the exam can increase the rate of testing to 200 tests per hour in many places. Hospitals with high-grade equipment can look at as many as 700 samples an hour and nearly 17,000 each day.

Researchers say any lab that is currently performing coronavirus testing can adopt this new method. The exam’s gel cards detect COVID-19 antibodies by separating the free red bloods from cells clustered together by the virus.

If the red blood cells in plasma clump together when exposed to antibodies, the sample has been exposed to SARS-CoV-2. Dr. Corrie adds this process on the gel card takes place in just “5-15 minutes.”

“This simple, rapid, and easily scalable approach has immediate application in SARS-CoV-2 serological testing, and is a useful platform for assay development beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. We are indebted to the work of our PhD students in bringing this to life,” explains Professor Banaszak Holl.

The study is published in ACS Sensors.

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