Alexandre Brolo, a physical chemist at the University of Victoria, is working to develop an at-home COVID-19 test. (UVic Photo Services)

University of Victoria chemist works to create at-home COVID-19 test

The test uses a sample of saliva, results are then read by an app

A physical chemist from the University of Victoria is working on creating an at-home COVID-19 test that could change the way public health officials track and control the spread of the virus.

Alexandre Brolo, in partnership with ImmunoPrecise Antibodies, is working on a test that would detect the presence of the disease in saliva and can be read using a cellphone. The news was announced by UVic on May 27.

RELATED: ‘Germ-killing robots’ to fight COVID-19 at this B.C. hospital

According to Brolo, the wait for COVID-19 test results in Canada can range anywhere from 24 hours to two weeks and requires the patient to visit a testing facility — “risking further disease spread.”

“A real-time COVID-19 test could be used in public spaces where you need to be able to rapidly screen people. The simple platform and easy-to-obtain sample could be used by non-health professionals or as a home-testing kit,” Brolo said in a statement.

The sample of saliva is placed on a thin strip coated in nanostructures made of gold. The structures interact with COVID-19 specific targets such as the spiky proteins located on the surface of the virus. If these proteins are present in the saliva of an infected patient, the strip will change colour and can be detected in real time with an app. 

Brolo previously developed and piloted technology — which he’s building upon for the COVID-19 test — that would detect the Zika virus. His team was able to verify the technology’s ability to detect proteins from both Zika and dengue fever using a person’s saliva. Now Brolo will be customizing and testing technology to use with COVID-19 antibody samples supplied by ImmunoPrecise, a Victoria-based company that specializes in custom antibody discovery and development.

RELATED: False-positive COVID-19 test results rare despite recent scares, experts say

The project is funded by the Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Alliance COVID-19 grant, which promotes collaboration between academic researches and industry to address pandemic-related research and technical challenges.

The projects are funded up to a year.

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kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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