health & science

A Kiwi device for mobile virus testing

A Kiwi firm is trialling a mobile device and app that could test for Covid-19 in hospitals, schools, factories and homes anywhere in the world within 40 minutes

No-one wishes harm on anyone, but sometimes a crisis is also an opportunity to quickly develop new technologies and systems to solve a problem.

Albany-based Ubiquitome may have found its moment, with the rapidly-spreading coronavirus focusing the attention, capital and energy of the world on testing, vaccine discovery and treatment. It has invented a mobile device that effectively 'photocopies' strands of DNA linked to viruses to quickly work out if someone has the illness, even if they have no symptoms.

Fast and mobile testing is seen as crucial. The current testing and laboratory systems mean more than a day can pass before a diagnosis is returned. Residents and workers have to visit a facility, be tested by staff and then wait: all of which increases the risks of transmission and limits the ability to control an outbreak.

Ubiquitome has developed Liberty 16, a handheld and battery-powered device that uses real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analysis to test for viruses. That data is then transferred with an app for analysis within 40 minutes. The PCR analysis is the DNA photocopying process.

Ubiquitome Executive Chairman Dr Paul Pickering said the technology was proven and was ready to scale with extra investment.

“We have validated the technology for Ebola, Zika virus and are now validating it for Covid-19 and have international partners that have validated the technology for the sheep pathogen PPRV and toxic algae blooms that affect the aquaculture industry,” Dr Pickering said.

The start-up has just raised US$1 million in capital from New Zealand angel investors and is now looking for more to scale up rapidly.

"In short, the technology is now well proven and ready to scale, however we need several million to scale the technology to the level it can become a dynamic mobile platform which can be rapidly deployed to outbreaks such as the current Covid-19," he said.

The device is called Liberty 16 because it can run 16 tests at the same time. It is effectively a miniature DNA photocopier and can amplify specific target DNA sequences to show the presence of any DNA of interest, whether that be human, animal, or wider environmental pathogens.

It has been successfully trialled most recently at Germany’s Friedrich-Loeffler Institute, where it performed the same as the large laboratory-scale, real-time PCR machines currently being used to test for Covid-19.

Dr Pickering is travelling this weekend to show Liberyy 16 to global authorities as they scramble to contain the virus and its effects.

Ubiquitome received a last-minute request to speak at the 27th International Molecular Medicine Tri-Conference in San Francisco this weekend. The conference focuses on emerging therapeutic, diagnostic and technology approaches to advance precision medicine, digital health and Bio-IT.

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