Jordanian student designs rapid COVID-19 test

Jordanian student and scientist Maha Muhammad Al-Aleef is seen this undated photo.
Jordanian student and scientist Maha Muhammad Al-Aleef is seen in this undated photo. (Photo: Maha Muhammad Al-Aleef)
AMMAN — A Jordanian student studying in the United States has developed a unique new COVID-19 test that provides test results in only five minutes, helping recipients skip hours or even days of waiting. اضافة اعلان

Maha Muhammad Al-Afeef, who studies at the University of Illinois, won the University’s Innovation Award after developing an inexpensive and highly accurate electrochemical biosensor that can easily test for COVID-19.

“When the coronavirus was classified as a global epidemic, I wanted to take advantage of all the experience and knowledge I have to invent a device that helps eradicate this pandemic,” said Afeef. “After several months of continuous and hard work, we successfully designed a device that diagnoses COVID-19 in five minutes only.”

Afeef’s test relies on a paper-based electrochemical sensor that detects the presence of COVID-19 in less than five minutes. The sensor requires samples from a nasal or saliva swab, similar to the standard tests being administered across the country, and uses graphene, a two-dimensional carbon-based substance used in electronics and electric batteries.

Graphene is highly sensitive to changes in electrical signals, making it ideal for testing for even small amounts of the virus. Additionally, gold nanoparticles capped with single-stranded nucleic acids act as a hypersensitive probe detecting the presence of COVID-19 RNA. Due to the improved sensitivity, Afeef’s test goes a step further than standard tests by differentiating viral RNA loads, which are a clue to the progress or extent of infection.

“It is a device that detects the presence of the genetic material of the virus in the patient’s sample,” Afeef told Jordan News. The device can be linked to a smart device so the patient can read the result and find out whether it is a negative or positive.”

Afeef and her team envision the test being linked to LED screens or a smartphone via Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, according to the University of Illinois. Its low cost and portability mean that it could be used as a home test or distributed to doctors’ offices.

“The technology was licensed for commercialization,” confirmed Afeef, who holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Biomedical Engineering from the Jordan University of Science and Technology. “We are applying nowadays for the approval from the US Food and Drug Administration to market the device in the United States of America. The device will exist on the markets soon.”

For the meantime, the majority of COVID-19 tests administered are polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests, which detect genetic material from a specific organism. The PCR test is the “gold standard” test for diagnosing COVID-19 because it is the most accurate and reliable test.

Individuals should receive the results of their tests as soon as 24 hours after sample collection, but sometime the results can take a few days depending on how long it takes the sample to reach the laboratory, how many specialized personnel are available to process the tests, and how many other samples are in the queue to be tested.

Because the PCR test is able to detect very small amounts of virus material, a drawback of this test is that it continues to detect fragments of the virus even after the patient has recovered from COVID-19 and is no longer contagious.

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