Foto ATE-Denmark

Virus test for use at home

In collaboration with Odense University Hospital, DTU will contribute to the development of a simple and inexpensive test device which can be used to assess the pathological picture in patients with a suspected viral infection. The device is based on a technology developed by the company ATE-Denmark.

Testing for coronavirus is both expensive and demanding, and far from all persons with symptoms are currently being tested to ascertain whether they are infected. This can be a matter of concern to the individual person, but it also means that the authorities do not have the full picture of how widely the virus has spread in society.

A new research project supported by a grant from the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science is scheduled to be launched in the autumn with a small, easily manageable device that can analyse blood and saliva samples and give an indication of whether a person’s disease symptoms are caused by a viral infection. The device will be developed in two versions, a simple handheld device similar to a thermometer, and a larger and more precise device for use in hospitals.

The new technology is modelled on a device developed by the company ATE-Denmark on the basis of its expertise in sensors and optics. The device is a kind of mini-microscope that can analyse a drop of blood and give a picture of how different types of white blood cells are distributed, thus establishing whether the patient’s immune system is fighting an infection. You simply take a prick blood sample—which is sucked into a chip—and the analysis result is ready in 30 seconds.

The new consortium will take a step further and supplement this with a nanoscopic analysis of a secretion from the patient’s throat which can show the presence of viral particles. The hope is that—by labelling these particles with a fluorescent substance—it will also be possible to identify the virus in question.

The test does not depend on reagents or biomarkers—which are expensive and difficult to obtain—and the result will be visual and easy to interpret.

Project start in record time

“To begin with, we will examine whether we can use the data we can obtain from the two samples to ascertain whether the patient’s fever is caused by a viral infection and the patient in question should undergo an actual PCR test,” says Professor Anders Kristensen from DTU Health Tech.

He has brought together a team of researchers for the task in record time. The laboratory—which has been empty since DTU was closed down—has been opened as an emergency measure, and several researchers and PhD students from different sections of DTU Health Tech have taken a few months’ leave from their own projects to work on the new pretest device.

The plan is for the analysis system to be set up by 1 May so that ATE-Denmark can implement it in its device. The prototype will then be delivered to Odense University Hospital, where Consultant Knud Yderstræde from the Centre for Innovative Medical Technology will be in charge of collecting data from samples taken from the hospital’s patients.

“We will initially look at blood samples. Changes typically occur in the blood when people are infected with viral particles; the blood platelet count may decrease, white blood cells change, etc. It is more demanding obtaining secretion samples which you can be sure give a realistic picture. There are also a large number of contamination sources in saliva or secretions. But with the blood samples, we will be able to render probable that something unusual is occurring and—together with the DTU researchers—we will then look at whether we can become more specific and also ascertain viral particles in a simpler and faster way,” says Knud Yderstræde.

Christian Nodskov—CTO/Director in ATE-Denmark—is very pleased that his company can contribute constructively in connection with a crisis situation like the present one, which will probably not be the last one either.

“Our dream is to make a difference. I’m thinking of— for example—elderly persons like my mother. If there was a device that could give an optical picture of whether she or her grandchildren had a viral disease in a matter of minutes, she could meet with them without being nervous about it,” he says.