Coronavirus: Abu Dhabi firm to roll out breakthrough technology for wide-scale testing
Artificial technology company Group 42 has teamed up with a UK sequencing firm to help develop a method to drive up detection rates
A hi-tech Abu Dhabi firm has helped mastermind a breakthrough in mass screening technology to help boost Covid-19 detection rate both in the UAE and across the globe.
Group 42, an artificial intelligence and cloud computing company in the capital, has joined forces with the UK's Oxford Nanopore Technologies to develop population-wide testing which is set to rolled out within weeks.
The new device can be used on samples from Covid-19 test nasal swabs, and is being further developed to work directly from a saliva sample. The technique uses loop-mediated isothermal amplification, which is a low-cost way of detecting disease in DNA and RNA samples, alongside nanopore sequencing, a faster way of generating an accurate genome sequence than older methods. This kind of testing has previously been used to detect dengue fever and malaria, and one device can process 96 samples in an hour.
It can also assess the presence of the virus on surfaces, or in systems such as water and sewage treatment facilities.
“The collaboration with Oxford Nanopore, a global leader in advanced sequencing products, accelerates G42’s ongoing endeavour to develop impactful applications for public health,” Peng Xiao, chief executive of G42, said.
“The worst of the pandemic has brought out the best in us.”
The new technology is being incorporated into the UAE's public health strategy and aims to enable hundreds of thousands of Covid-19 test samples to be analysed per day.
The UAE has already conducted more than 2.5 million tests since the outbreak began, one of the highest screening rates in the world.
Population-wide testing can help break the transmission patterns of viruses, reducing the number of cases when co-ordinated with a rapid public health response.
However, existing methods make such large-scale processing logistically difficult and cost-prohibitive, according to G42.
The companies said this solution can dramatically reduce the complexity of mass screening.
G42 and Oxford Nanopore are working on ensuring there is a suitable production capacity for the global deployment of the system once it clears regulatory hurdles.
“Precise and cost-efficient population-scale testing is key to a responsible easing of restrictions, to protect the health of populations and supporting the re-opening of global economic activity,” Dr Gordon Sanghera, chief executive of Oxford Nanopore, said.
“We are confident that our partnership with G42 will allow us to successfully deploy this new technology around the world.”
The UAE is increasingly turning to technology to combat the pandemic.
QuantLase Imaging Lab, the medical research arm of Abu Dhabi's International Holdings Company, announced last month it had developed a rapid laser test to identify Covid-19 patients, which aims to replace the current swab and blood tests that take several hours to process.
The test can be used for mass screenings, with results available in seconds.
The new technology is expected to be introduced to the market in a few months.
Updated: June 9, 2020 05:50 PM