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02 April 2020

Scientists identify rapid COVID-19 testing method

Scientists identify COVID-19 testing method that delivers accurate result within 25 minutes.

Pipette dripping into test tube
The LAMP method tested by researchers has previously been used in TB and norovirus outbreaks.

The need for a fast and reliable test for COVID-19 is paramount in managing the current pandemic, especially in at risk groups like care homes. A team of academic clinicians from King’s College London and Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust identified the novel method “LAMP” which can produce results in under 30 minutes and could help improve patient services in the wider community.

Led by Dr Claire Steves from King’s College London, the team piloted the test in a London NHS care home experiencing an outbreak, comparing it to standard tests using PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). They found LAMP nasal swab testing was fast, easy to use and worked on a par to these currently used methods. It accurately identified 80% of cases detected by standard methods and identified a further three positive cases. Eight further cases were negative using both methods.

The LAMP method has previously been used in TB and norovirus outbreaks away from centralised large-scale laboratories and without the need for skilled technicians. It stands for Loop mediated isothermal AMPlification and uses magnetic bead capture of genetic code and a key identifier gene of SARS-CoV-2 to enable the testing to have such a quick turnaround.

The team of researchers believe that this method has two key advantages; its rapidity at point of care, critical to stemming outbreaks in facilities where lots of people live together, such as in care homes, hostels, prisons and also hospitals. Also as it uses dry swabs, which could be useful if supply of media and reagents used in PCR methods become short during the pandemic.

The small pilot study also revealed that a number of the patients suffering from COVID-19 developed hypothermia (a temperature less than 36°C) as an early symptom.

Dr Marc Osterdahl, specialist registrar in medicine for older people Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust said: “Hypothermia was a notable clinical sign for patients with COVID-19 in this patient group. More work is needed to understand when we should suspect possible COVID in more dependent individuals.”

Dr Claire Steves, Academic Geriatrician at King’s College London said: “A cost effective and efficient diagnostic tool would be a game changer in current testing getting quicker results to the point of care. This is a small real-world study, but we hope it will stimulate more interest and evaluation of this testing solution”.

In this story

Claire  Steves

Professor of Ageing and Health