Bath University researchers are developing LoCKamp, a handheld Covid-19 test device that performs genetic analysis to produce results within 10 minutes.

The LoCKamp (lab on chip amplification) device is claimed to be globally unique due to the integration of all test elements (sampling, identifying specific DNA sequences, and displaying rapid results) in a compact and portable unit. According to Bath, the device’s genetic analysis is superior to rapid tests currently in use, which are protein-based.

LoCKamp has been developed by members of the university’s Centre for Biosensors, Bioelectronics and Biodevices (C3Bio) and clinical trials are scheduled for September with partners at Royal United Hospitals in Bath.

Dr Despina Moschou, a lecturer in Bath’s Department of Electronic & Electrical Engineering and the Lab on Chip expert in C3Bio, is leading the test’s development. She said: “The portable all-in-one device we’re working on would allow for the rapid identification of a virus or known variants.

“The difference the LoCKamp test offers is the standard of testing. Existing rapid LFA [lateral flow assay] tests detect a virus by looking for proteins or antibodies within a sample, whereas the genetic test we are advocating identifies a full genetic sequence specific to the virus. It’s like an enhanced, faster, miniaturised PCR test, that doesn’t need to be sent to a lab to be analysed.

“I have been working on lab on chip technology since 2010, and the pandemic has focused my team’s effort further into diagnostic testing, specifically Covid and its variants. The device would be useful in clinical settings but particularly so in remote areas, or in circumstances such as surge testing in at-risk areas where new variants have been identified and need to be confined before spreading further.”

Lab on chip technology relies on the emerging principle of microfluidics, which uses specially designed microchips to manipulate tiny amounts of liquid in a miniscule space, which quickens reactions.

Dr Pedro Estrela, director of C3Bio, said: “Lab on chip devices will revolutionise the way medical diagnostics is done in the presence of patients. The work we’re doing within C3Bio is at the forefront of exploring existing industrial capabilities such as printed circuit boards to develop low-cost mass-manufacturable lab on chip devices for medical and environmental applications.

“This work on SARS-CoV-2 testing opens the way to rapid genetic testing that can be used at the community level without the need for expensive laboratory testing.”

The handheld unit is projected to cost around £100, while the replaceable credit card-sized microchips that carry out the testing cost about £2, a figure expected to fall significantly as production begins. Work is underway to understand how many tests one of the chips can safely carry out before it needs replacing.

The LoCKamp exploits rapid DNA amplification (known as a LAMP assay) developed by partners at Glasgow University. Work is currently being carried out to finalise how to incorporate all on-chip sample preparation functionalities needed to ‘break open’ DNA samples and carry out ‘sample-in-answer-out’ analysis.

In use, the device – being prototyped with manufacturing partner Graphic plc – will be able to display quantitative results on a touchscreen display or smartphone app. The C3Bio team said that wireless connectivity allows for results to be transmitted, or automatically added to a test-and-trace style database.

The team’s focus is currently on Covid-19 detection and diagnosis, but the device could be adapted to detect diseases including cancer, strains of antimicrobial resistance, and other viruses.

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