Faster and cheaper COVID-19 testing kits are being developed by SFU researchers

Using previously developed Mango imaging technology, the tests will potentially be able to deliver results within an hour

Photo courtesy of SFU News

Written by: Nathaniel Tok, Peak Associate

SFU Post-Doctoral Fellow Lena Dolgosheina and Professor Peter Unrau of molecular biology and biochemistry are using their previously developed imaging technology called Mango to help produce cheaper and faster COVID-19 testing kits.

In an email interview with The Peak, Dr. Unrau discussed the research further. 

The project is funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), which is offering rapid funding to Canadian researchers whose work helps to address COVID-19. According to the CIHR, 227 eligible applications have been submitted and 99 grants have been provided at the time of writing. Dr. Unrau said that the process of writing the grant application and receiving the funding took two weeks. 

 The Mango imaging technology is able to detect COVID-19 RNA within living cells, explained Dr. Unrau. Saliva samples will be used for the COVID-19 testing kits, collected through the swab method. 

Most current tests are “multi temperature” tests, which require expensive equipment. According to Dr. Unrau, the Mango test will be cheaper and easier to conduct because it is performed at a fixed temperature. 

It will also be significantly faster than other testing methods. Dr. Unrau noted that currently, test samples are transported to centralized test centres where the results are processed — this ultimately is a longer process due to both transportation and testing. Dr. Unrau is hoping that the Mango test kits will be able to collect the sample and perform the test in an hour, all done onsite at a hospital. 

Additionally, Dr. Unrau explained that the Mango system also makes important contributions to disease research, as it can detect when RNA processes “go wrong or break,” as is the case with cancer. He noted that this Mango makes this detection easier, “and thus should simplify the study of human disease.” 

Dr. Unrau noted that the test kits are not commercially available yet, as they are still undergoing reliability testing.