2021 May/20

Instant self-test for COVID-19 detection from the Agricultural University of Athens

With the mobile phone or a tablet and in just three minutes we will be able to see if we have been infected with COVID-19. The important thing is that the virus can be detected immediately after the infection. Scientists at the Agricultural University of Athens have developed a biosensor that can be integrated into an easy-to-use platform and offers rapid detection of the spike S1 Sars-CoV-2 surface protein, the most important marker of the virus at the first day of the infection, even if there are no symptoms.

In simple words the user will have a “kit”, which contains a special swab to take the sample from the nose or mouth, a buffer solution and a consumable modified electrode (such as the one we use to measure blood sugar), which will be connected to a small-sized custom made device that will communicate with a mobile or tablet via Bluetooth technology. In terms of use the test will be very simpler, simpler than the common self-tests. The “Greek” biosensor can also be used for the rapid and mass evaluation of drugs that block the entry of the virus or its interaction with the host cells (i.e. humans).

Currently, the researchers of the Agricultural University of Athens, are working feverishly to publish new results from their successful clinical trials in samples of nasopharyngeal swab and saliva in collaboration with a large public reference hospital and to optimize more sensor parameters. The researchers see these improvements as means to promote the use of their test in mass testing worldwide.

This method of SARS-CoV-2 detection, which was published a few months ago in the journal “Sensors”, potentially allows the detection of coronavirus even immediately after infection in a person, while allowing the identification of asymptomatic carriers in the initial stages of virus transmission. This method, has already been validated in a clinical study, conducted by an independent research team and the results were published in the prestigious scientific journal Journal of Virological Methods, confirming the effectiveness of the innovative cell biosensor developed by AUA’s research team. In comparison with the traditional molecular methods, the cell biosensor technology showed 93% sensitivity (95% CI: 86.2-96.8) and 97.8% accuracy in the diagnosis of COVID-19. AUA’s biosensor is based on engineered mammalian cells that carry a human antibody against the antigen of the virus S1 surface protein. The S1 protein attaches to biosensor’s antibodies by altering cellular bioelectric properties, which can then be measured by a special bioelectric device.

According to the Rector of the Agricultural University of Athens and Director of the Cell Technology Laboratory of the Department of Biotechnology, Prof. Spyros Kintzios, “the results of clinical trials show that the method is very reliable and in the near future will enable citizens to test themselves at home even with saliva samples. “Our university, in collaboration with distinguished Greek scientists, is a pioneer in the creation of cellular biosensors of extremely advanced technology, not only for common viruses such as influenza but also for many other dangerous infectious diseases”.