By Wyatt Gillis
A team of researchers at UPEI have received a grant to further develop a device that tests for coronaviruses over the next two years.
Dr. William Whelan and Dr. Andrew Trivett are leading a team to develop a handheld device that will drastically reduce wait times in the detection of infectious diseases, including COVID-19.
“When the call was put out Andy Trivett and I met and quickly realized that we could pivot the development of our technology to look at viruses in humans,” said Whelan.
Anywhere Lab’s technology removes the need to send samples to labs for testing and instead gives farmers and researchers the power to test for viruses anywhere and receive results in under an hour.
“We originally developed the technology to detect viruses in farm animals and crops,” said Whelan.
The group was one of several to receive a two-year federal research grant after the Canadian Institute of Health Research put out a rapid response call for research into the disease.
The device works by inserting a swab sample into a cartridge that looks something similar in size to a credit card. Then the cartridge is placed inside a container where the sample is exposed to chemicals that will cause the sample to emit light if the disease is present. When the test is complete the results will then be uploaded to the user’s mobile device.
The device easily fits into the coffee cup holder of a tractor, something that’s sure to go over well with farmers.
Before Whelan and his team can begin testing for the coronavirus in people, they’ll first complete a validation study in which they’ll test pigs for a coronavirus.
“What we plan to do is, to start by using non-virulent or safe viruses from the animal world. That’ll be the way we validate the testing when it comes to the coronavirus.”
It may be several years before AnywhereLab’s team has a product ready for market.
“It’s not a technology that’s going to be out the door in two months, it’s going to take some time.”
Though their product won’t be ready in time to fight the current outbreak, they hope to have it ready for the next one.
“It’s not a matter of if there’s another viral outbreak, but when,” said Whelan.
Their team also plans to hire several students over the next 2 years, including researchers, lab technicians, and several others.
As of Tuesday, P.E.I. is sending samples of suspected cases of COVID-19 to Winnipeg for testing. Provincial health officials hope to have infrastructure in place to conduct testing on P.E.I. within a week.
Of the 416 samples taken on P.E.I., so far there have been 3 positive cases, 231 negative and 182 people with test results pending.