Taipei American School Students Develop Effective At-Home Viral Test Kits

Taipei American School Students Develop Effective At-Home Viral Test Kits
Photo Credit: Taipei American School

What you need to know

Students from the Taipei American School iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) team have recently created a diagnostic test that can be adapted to any viral infection.

By Derek C., Taipei American School iGEM team

Before the Covid-19 pandemic, the influenza A and B viruses were responsible for 250,000 to 500,000 deaths annually. The coronavirus outbreak has only exacerbated the situation, increasing the need for rapid test kits.

Virus detection kits do more than identifying infected individuals. They provide extensive data for governments and international organizations to implement or adjust their policies accordingly.

During the flu season, Taiwanese citizens would typically visit a clinic for an influenza test. But people who wish to get tested for Covid-19 have to apply and pay for the tests at designated hospitals. While some countries are in favor of using rapid test kits to maintain economic activities, Taiwan has been enforcing mandatory quarantines for all arriving travelers.

Biotech companies around the world are racing to develop more innovative test kits, most notably at-home test kits. Taiwan’s researchers are also in the lead: Students from the Taipei American School iGEM (International Genetically Engineered Machines) team have recently created a diagnostic test that can be adapted to any viral infection.

A typical at-home test kit features a strip of chromatographic paper enclosed in a small plastic cassette. However, these tests are mainly used to tell if someone has already had a viral infection rather than if they are currently infected. Thus, these tests do not help prevent the spread of viral infections.

Team_members_Wilson,_Matthew,_and_Derek
Photo Credit: Taipei American School
Wilson, the project head, with team members Matthew and Derek observing the contents of a centrifuge tube.

Users can also opt for a nasal swab at home and send it to local labs for analysis. This may yield more accurate results, but it is not ideal. To obtain maximum viral concentration, the swab has to be done from a certain angle and up to a certain depth. If the at-home test kit users swab themselves incorrectly, it can lead to false negatives. Sending back the sample to a lab is not only a lengthy process but it also puts delivery workers at risk of being exposed to the virus.

Even when all the issues above are handled properly, nasal swabs are simply uncomfortable. To address the shortcomings of at-home test kits, student researchers at Taipei American School developed a room temperature, saliva-based, molecular, at-home test kit. It combines the speed and convenience of a lateral flow test with the accuracy of laboratory analysis for nasal swabs. All someone has to do is to spit into a syringe-shaped capsule and expunge the sample into a test tube. The solution in the test tube can yield an easy-to-read visible color change that indicates if the user has a viral infection or not, meaning that people can interpret the results themselves without relying on medical personnel.

Beyond household use, this test kit can also be deployed at offices, airports, convenience stores, and other public spaces. Essentially, everyone can get tested anytime at a reliable level of accuracy, which would allow faster responses in epidemic prevention efforts.

The TAS iGEM team was remarkably successful at the international Giant Jamboree Competition for iGEM, which was held virtually from November 13 to 22, 2020. The team was not only crowned the High School Grand Prize Winner out of 65 high school teams but also got nominated for 13 special prizes, eight of which they won, including Best Education, Best Presentation, and Best DNA Parts Collection.

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TNL Editor: Daphne K. Lee, Nicholas Haggerty (@thenewslensintl)

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