SINGAPORE: A team of researchers from the National University of Singapore (NUS) has developed a new test kit that is able to screen for multiple diseases in less than an hour, and for under S$1.
The portable test kit – about 4cm in length and 3cm wide – is designed to detect a wide range of diseases. They range from Zika and Ebola to hepatitis, dengue and malaria, said NUS in a media release on Tuesday (Sep 18).
It can also detect various types of cancers and genetic diseases.
Users simply have to deposit a drop of blood or other bodily fluids onto a small disc on the test kit. This will then flow into another disc that has been pre-loaded with a DNA molecular machine that is designed to recognise disease-specific molecules.
The colour of the disc will change from colourless to brown if a disease is detected.
If the condition is more severe, the colour will turn into a darker brown. Researchers are also working on having the test results further analysed using a smartphone for an assessment of how severe the infection is.
In addition, multiple units of the same test chip can be mounted onto a common cartridge to test for various diseases at once.
It takes 30 minutes to an hour to detect the presence of diseases, which is about two to four times faster than existing infection diagnostic methods that can cost around S$100, said NUS.
“With this invention, tests can be done at the point-of-care, for instance in community clinics or hospital wards, so that disease monitoring or treatment can be administered in a timely manner,” said team leader Assistant Professor Shao Huilin, who is from the NUS Biomedical Institute for Global Health Research and Technology (NUS BIGHEART).
The technology, called enVision (enzyme-assisted nanocomplexes for visual identification of nucleic acids), can detect diseases in their early stages and boasts an accuracy rate of 95 per cent, researchers added.
To validate the performance of the kit, an initial study was conducted on 35 patients from the National University Hospital to check for human papillomavirus (HPV) – the key cause of cervical cancer.
“enVision is not only able to accurately detect different subtypes of the same disease, it is also able to spot differenced within a specific subtype of a given disease to identify undetectable infections,” said Assistant Professor Shao.
The team took about one-and-a-half years to develop the screening kit.
Researchers hope to commercialise it in a year or two, in Singapore and in regional markets such as Indonesia and the Philippines, making the kit available through pharmacies and general practitioner clinics.