An Irish company is preparing to release rapid Covid-19 testing kits, which can provide results in 15 minutes and potentially act as a "clinical weapon" against coronavirus.
The tests have been developed with the same technology contained in pregnancy tests and although they are in a pilot phase, they could reduce testing times dramatically from four hours to just 15 minutes.
Assay Genie, a Reagent Genie brand, will be releasing the rapid POC (Point of Care) kit within weeks globally and already some Irish hospitals have been in touch to sample the product, according to Colm Ryan, biochemist and chief executive of Assay Genie.
The test measures one drop of blood and according to the co-founder and CTO of the company Seán Mac Fhearraigh "ultimately, we would have a clinical weapon to combat the spread of the virus".
Mr Ryan and Mr Mac Fhearraigh met at UCD when they were studying biochemistry.
They both have PhDs and were able to develop the kits after learning early on how the virus was spreading so quickly in Wuhan, China, where it was first identified.
"We were working on this as soon as we found out about coronavirus, as we have contacts in China," Mr Ryan, from Co Tipperary, said. "We were ahead of the curve, due to that.
"So we worked with a partner to develop the kit to bring it to market and it's CE certified for diagnostic use in Ireland.
"We need to come together to fight this battle.
"It's similar to going through a war but we will stay together and get through it and unite."
The kit uses lateral flow technology to detect Covid-19 within just one drop of blood.
Currently, the virus is detected via an advanced molecular technique called quantitative real-time PCR, which takes four hours to deliver a result.
The Assay Genie kit uses colloidal gold immunochromatography to detect the virus and antibodies in human blood, serum and plasma.
Positive samples are shown by a colour change within the test kit.
The kit is so far a research-use only test but there have been "lots of contacts from Irish hospitals and in the UK, and round the world," Mr Ryan said.
"They're taking free tests on the first batch. We should have a consignment out in seven days.
"We are getting a lot of contacts from frontline staff, especially from pharmacies.
"We need a quick way of responding to this virus.
"There's a global shortage of raw materials for the test kits being used currently.
"And I think some people don't realise the mammoth task involved in testing."
Mr Ryan said he believes those showing symptoms should be tested and rapid testing should be used on medics who are dealing with the crisis up close.
Large companies have also shown an interest in the rapid tests, as they are concerned about having staff away from offices in self-isolation.
A rapid test for workers who may be showing cold symptoms could rule out coronavirus, or flag just when medical help is needed.
Mr Ryan also believes that anyone who is caring for the elderly and the vulnerable should also have easier access to testing.
But he says the rapid tests could only potentially be used by GPs and other medics.
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