Handheld $100 Magnetic Particle Spectroscopy Device Could Offer Accurate and Cheap COVID-19 Testing

Housed in a 3D-printed chassis, the prototype handheld device is entering into clinical trials now with a sub-$100 target price point.

A compact, handheld gadget could offer in-home COVID-19 testing for under $100. (πŸ“·: U. of Minnesota)

Researchers at the University of Minnesota have developed a quick, accurate, and low-cost test for COVID-19 antigens β€” using a handheld magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS) device.

Earlier this month, a paper was published in Applied Materials & Interfaceswhich demonstrated how magnetic nanoparticles (MNPs) could be used for magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS) to detect the nucleoprotein molecules present in samples of H1N1 influenza. Now, researchers have taken that same core technology and turned it on SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 β€” with, they say, excellent results.

"It’s a portable platform based on magnetic particle spectroscopy (MPS) that allows for rapid, sensitive detection of SARS-CoV-2 at the point of care," explains Professor Jian-Ping Wang of the device, in an interview with IEEE Spectrum. "Eventually, it will be used for routine diagnosis in households."

"To run a test, the user begins by inserting a testing vial into the device and waiting as the system collects a baseline signal for 10 seconds. Then the user adds a biofluid sample into a vial and waits again as the antigen and antibody bind for 10 minutes. The system will automatically read the ending signal for 10 seconds, then display the results."

The handheld device, a refinement and miniaturisation of an earlier desktop model, is designed to be used with an Android app installed on a smartphone. Dubbed MagiCoil, the app analyses data from the MPS microcontroller in real-time β€” but while providing step-by-step instructions, ensuring that even untrained individuals can correctly take a reading.

With three to five months of clinical trials ahead of it, the device won't be appearing on shelves soon β€” but if it proves viable, Wang claims it could cost as little as $100 with the testing vials costing between $2 and $5 each.

More information on the project as a whole can be found on the University of Minnesota website, and on the COVID-19 variant specifically in the IEEE Spectrum interview.

Gareth Halfacree
Freelance journalist, technical author, hacker, tinkerer, erstwhile sysadmin. For hire: freelance@halfacree.co.uk.
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