Image credit: Ellume
With only about one-third of the country fully vaccinated against COVID-19 so far, some health officials predict the US won’t reach herd immunity anytime soon. To combat the continuing spread of COVID-19, some airlines, universities, and other businesses are requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test to fly or matriculate this fall. That’s led to developments in test kits that use IoT technologies to provide quick results and shareable data.
Varcode is adapting the variable barcode technology behind its patented Smart Tag product to develop a COVID-19 self-test. The Smart Tags contain a barcode with an embedded sensor that monitors temperature and time to ensure product integrity during cold-chain distribution.
Now Varcode is applying its expertise to create a rapid flow test (RFT) kit that can detect the presence of COVID-19. The company has added an opaque layer on top of its lateral flow assay, a common testing method that uses a bodily fluid and testing agent.
Image credit: Varcode
It works like a home pregnancy test. In Varcode’s test RFT, the opaque layer contains a specific protein that turns color when it encounters COVID-19 antibodies in the blood plasma. A person places a drop of blood on the test area. If it contains the antibodies, a line of color appears along with a control line. A negative result is indicated with a single control line.
The entire test sits inside a credit-card size plastic enclosure and can be scanned by an app on a smartphone. The information is sent to a secure cloud and analyzed by deep learning algorithms. The data can be shared with approved doctors and public health agencies, and results are returned to the user. It doesn’t require test strips to be shipped to a lab for processing, and it could support the collection of additional information, such as temperature, if desired.
The deep learning allows Varcode to recalibrate the tests as needed. The protein painted on the opaque layer contains gold. Too little gold can result in a faint or indiscernible line, too much gold and the test can indicate a false positive. The artificial intelligence analysis provides for data-based adjustments and the integration of new virus iterations.
Varcode hopes to get FDA approval soon. The company, which has offices in Israel and Chicago, is building a COVID-19-specific app that can collect additional information about patient symptoms and location and tie that data to the test results. Varcode also indicates that the technology can be applied to RFT kits for other viruses in the future.
Digital Capabilities Bolster Virus Monitoring
Other companies including LabCorp and Abbot have developed over-the-counter COVID-19 self-testing kits. They typically require a nasal swab and are returned to a lab for processing.
Ellume, a digital diagnostics development company based in Queensland, Australia, has developed a different type of test. The self-test from Ellume requires a nasal swab and uses an analyzer that links to a smartphone app to help home users receive and interpret the results. The test unit sends data to a secure cloud via a Bluetooth LE link with the user’s smartphone.
Similar to Varcode, the Ellume mobile app also asks for some user information and can report results to public health agencies to help track the disease. The digital connectivity capability offers quick results and automatically shares data, reducing manual entry errors. It also enables disease monitoring based on location, age, gender, and other characteristics, provided the user supplies that information.
With geo-mapping data, protected contact tracing can be initiated as well. That data can help health officials understand the impact of the virus, dispatch appropriate resources and staff, and predict outbreaks, which can help limit the spread of COVID-19.