New PolyU disease test widens scope

Top News | Jasmine Ling 12 Feb 2020

Polytechnic University has developed a new test that can identify up to 40 types of respiratory disease pathogens within an hour, including the Wuhan coronavirus, researchers say.

The test's coverage is much broader, as it can screen bacteria and viruses that cause flu, SARS and MERS and dozens of germs. Existing tests in public hospitals can test only one to three types of pathogens at a time.

The test is expected to cost about HK$200 to HK$300 in a single run, while technologies developed in other countries cost more than HK$5,000 per test.

The research team also includes University of Hong Kong's Yuen Kwok-yung and his team.

Terence Lau Lok-ting, director of innovation and technology at PolyU, who led the research, said the reduced production cost allows a faster and cheaper diagnosis of viruses that can lead to similar flu-like symptoms.

The diagnostic system was the most comprehensive as it could cover 30 to 40 types of respiratory viruses or bacteria for each test, nearly double the existing systems overseas that can detect at most 22 pathogens.

"Existing systems can identify 22 types, but there are more than 22 types of pathogens that cause flu symptoms, like cough, fever and runny nose," he said.

Lau said the diagnosis requires only five gene copies of the pathogen, and since an infected patient usually carries more than 80,000 pathogen gene copies, the test is highly sensitive.

With further development, the system could identify at most 80 types of pathogens.

However, there is no timetable for the test's launch in Hong Kong.

Lau said they had several machines that were ready for application but have yet to reach production. The team would consider lending the machines to public hospitals if there are urgent situations.

The research team has so far carried out almost 100 clinical tests.

"We'd like to manufacture it in a production line as soon as possible, but it depends on funding," Lau said. He believes the test can be put to use in hospitals within half a year with sufficient funding.

The research project was initially denied funding by the Innovation and Technology Commission, and has been funded by the Shenzhen government in the past four years, but Lau said the test's application would be prioritized in Hong Kong hospitals.

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