An instant Covid-19 sensor made in Australia could help transform day-to-day management of the pandemic by protecting frontline workers and the wider community.
The Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, more commonly known as RMIT University, has announced that it is collaborating with partners – including Melbourne-based biomedical start-up Soterius – on a biosensor that can detect the presence of tiny amounts of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its variants.
Said to be reliable, accurate and non-invasive, the Soterius Scout sensor can deliver results within a minute to provide the all-clear for someone to enter their work environment. Alternatively, it will alert them if they need to undertake a medical Covid test and self-isolate.
According to the development team, it can detect Covid-19 even if someone is asymptomatic.
Commercial release is likely in early 2022
The successful prototype is now being further developed in a partnership that includes MIP Diagnostics, the Burnet Institute, D+I and Vestech. The expected date for commercial release is early 2022.
The technology is to be manufactured in Australia and will initially be delivered to hospitals. Future applications in other essential worker and high-traffic settings include aged care, quarantine hotels, airports and schools.
Soterius co-founder, Dr Alasdair Wood, said emerging environmental viral sensors were bulky, energy intensive and able to detect only one type of virus.
“Our biosensor is so small it can fit on a personal fob card and it’s easy to use – you just need to swipe your card over a reader at checkpoints,” Wood said.
Technology can adapt to detect new strains
“Importantly, one sensor can detect up to eight viral strains and our technology can be easily adapted to detect new variants or novel viruses as they emerge.
“We hope the Soterius Scout biosensor could be a vital tool for managing Covid-19, providing accurate early detection to prevent outbreaks and avoid the need for future lockdowns.”
Prototype tests conducted at RMIT, in partnership with the Burnet Institute, a medical research institute also located in Melbourne, found that the biosensor detects SARS-CoV-2 spike protein fragments with impressive accuracy and no false positives.
Trials also show the sensor has the potential to become a diagnostic tool for respiratory illnesses such as flu and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).