Researchers from the University of Birmingham have created a new RNA test for COVID-19, which they say can reduce the testing time to under five minutes while still delivering accurate results.

The method has been published in a preprint paper on MedRxiv, meaning that it has not yet been peer-reviewed, although the University of Birmingham Enterprise has filed a patent application covering the method and its use in diagnostic equipment.

The Enterprise is also seeking to license the patent for rapid product development.

The preprint paper demonstrates the rapidity and sensitivity of the method using a patient sample RNA provided by Public Health England.

The current ‘gold standard’ test for COVID-19 is the Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test, which takes over an hour per sample.

This includes 30 minutes to convert RNA to DNA – following this, the test uses a DNA polymerase enzyme to copy the DNA and amplify it to detectable levels which requires cycles of heating and cooling.

Another method, called lateral flow testing, which measures the presence of antibodies, can also take up to 30 minutes.

The University of Birmingham have created a new single-step approach for converting viral RNA into DNA, combining it with an existing technique known as Exponential Amplification Reaction (EXPAR).

This method increases DNA concentration in samples to detectable levels at a constant temperature.

“We have designed a new method for testing that combines the ease of use and speed of lateral flow testing with the inherent sensitivity of an RNA test,” said Professor Tim Dafforn, from the University of Birmingham’s School of Biosciences.

“It features reagents that can be used in existing point of care devices and meets the need for testing in high throughput, near-patient, settings where people may be waiting in line for their results,” he added.