Researchers at the University of California Santa Barbara have created a cheaper way to test for COVID-19 in your home using a smartphone camera and an app.
This new system is described in a paper published in the journal JAMA Open. It uses basic laboratory equipment and the app bacticount for the detection of pathogens in saliva. You simply need to place your saliva sample on a hot plate and then use the test kit. The specific reactive solution is what amplifies any viral RNA in the saliva sample. It’s similar to the process used in COVID test kits at home.
This process is known as “Loop-mediated ISothermal Amplifying,” or LAMP.
After any viral RNA has been amplified, place a cardboard container with an LED light on top. A smartphone’s camera will then be able to look inside the box with an LED light. It should be able to see any color reactions that may indicate the presence of COVID-19. A bright red light should be created if there is a viral load. The red light will appear faster if the viral load is greater, which means it is more contagious. Based on the speed at which that red light appears, the app will calculate your viral load.
Gizmodo states that this test setup will cost less than $100. This includes the price of the phone you would need to run it. You’d pay $7 for each additional test that would require a new kit. This is a great deal compared to the hundreds of dollars that insurance providers charge for certain PCR or rapid tests.
Researchers believe this method of testing could be as accurate as a PCR. It could also allow for faster results than a PCR test done at a doctor’s clinic that processes hundreds of samples per day. It is important to remember that the study only included 50 participants. Further research will be required before this method can be widely used.
Although the original purpose of the test kit was to be used in “resource-limited settings”, its researcher informed Gizmodo that it can easily be adapted for home testing. Bacticount is only currently compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S9 because of its camera calibrations. As research continues, this could change and allow more smartphones to access the testing technology.