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Taiwanese researchers make world’s first chip virus reader

Source: Taipei Times by Jake Chung

Taiwanese researchers have designed the world’s first microchip platform capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2 within three minutes, the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARL) said yesterday, adding that the field-effect transistor biosensor (Bio-FET) is expected to hit markets as soon as next month.

The chip, which was in December granted emergency use authorization (EUA) by the Food and Drug Administration, resulted from joint research conducted by Molsentech (矽基分子), Academia Sinica, the NARL’s Taiwan Instrument Research Institute and Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital.

Yesterday, the NARL told a news conference hosted by the Ministry of Science and Technology that the research was funded by ministry grants, while the hospital conducted clinical trials of the chip in which 142 of its patients participated.

The chip offers a three-minute rapid screening and a 20-minute complete screening, hospital vice dean Chen Yao-sheng (陳垚生) said.

Biosensors on the chip modify the electric charge passing through the chip if it detects nucleic acid characteristic of the virus that causes COVID-19, Molsentech CEO Chu Chia-jung (褚家容) added.

While quantifying a cycle threshold value and screening more accurately, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing takes at least one-and-a-half hours, the NARL said.

Antigen and antibody rapid screening tests take 15 minutes, it said, adding that antigen screenings often deliver false positives or negatives.

Antibody screening can only detect SARS-CoV-2 in the latter stages of infection, it added.

The chip is so sensitive that it does not require amplification to detect the nucleic acid, Chen said, adding that the system can even detect the virus in its incubation stage.

The chip would greatly shorten the time required to run a nucleic acid test, Chu said, adding that the system has a positivity rate of 95 percent on a nasopharyngeal sample.

“Our goal is for the system to conduct tests using just saliva samples,” she added.

The chip gives people more precise screening results in less time and at a lower cost per person of NT$3,000, she said.

The firm is offering a discount of 40 to 50 percent to all hospitals, she said, adding that it is applying for EUAs in the US and Japan.

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