NU alumnus developed the test to detect the virus that causes COVID-19

A Nazarbayev University graduate has developed an express test system for rapid detection of coronavirus that works in less than 15 minutes. The main difference between the developed test system from the existing ones is that it detects the virus itself, not the antibodies. The test-system does not require any additional equipment and can be done independently at home.

The development is based on synthetic nanobodies, which were given to Bolat Sultankulov by a research group from Switzerland. The scientist has been working on the test system for the last 6 months.

The new test, based on the approach of a similar test from the pharmaceutical company Abbott that uses antibodies, and it is able to determine the presence of viruses in the body. The developed test is applicable and effective within the first seven days after the onset of the first COVID-19  symptoms. The sensitivity in the configuration of the test is between 9 and 18 nanograms of RBD protein. To use it in practice, we need to pass validation and expertise on clinical samples,” says Bolat Sultankulov, NU Ph.D. graduate and the developer of the test system.

Nanobodies can also be used not only for testing but also in the treatment of coronavirus infection. The nanobodies’ principle of action in therapy can be described as follows: they attach to the spikes of the coronavirus and thus neutralize the infection of cells with the virus, preventing it from spreading. Scientists paid particular attention to nanobodies because of a number of advantages  – high stability to temperature and acidity, low immunogenicity, high solubility, and scalability in laboratory conditions.

However, therapy development is a long process, so I considered and looked for the possibility of using nanobodies primarily in diagnostics. I mean, we can associate any nanobody with some kind of detecting agent. For example, it can be a luminous agent or gold nanoparticles. Thus, we got the so-called complexes, which I applied in the new express test,” says Bolat Sultankulov.  

According to the developer, the test is an express strip working on the same principle as the pregnancy test. The uniqueness of the express test is that it can be carried out even at home on saliva samples.

 “You can use biomaterial, sputum or mucus, as in a PCR test, and carry out the test at home. The biomaterial is mixed with a special solution in a plastic tube, which comes with the test, and then a small volume of the mixture is transferred to a second clean tube and a paper test strip is lowered into it,” explains Bolat Sultankulov.

 A laboratory sample of the test strip is shown below. It shows a positive result in the form of a dark pink drop on a white membrane. According to the scientist, the final version of the test will have a line instead of a drop shape. If nothing appears, it means a negative result: the COVID-19 virus is not detected in your body.

The test strip is created in several configurations. Different configurations can be used to reduce false-positive and false-negative results,” the scientist continues.

Now the test system needs to undergo validation and expertise, and if it shows its effectiveness, it will soon be produced and available for purchase.

The scientist thanks the  Young Scientists Alliance, Nazarbayev University corporate fund Social Development Fund, Astana Business Campus, and the National Center for Biotechnology for their support.