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L to R: Project team members Aryam Ahmed, Latifa Alseiari, Abdulla Rashidi, Nader Al Hamadi, Dr Pramod Kumar and Dr Mohammad Firoz Khan Image Credit:

Abu Dhabi: A new kind of laser-enabled test to detect coronavirus in affected patients appears to be showing promising results, with 85 to 90 per cent accuracy, its UAE-based developer said today.

The technology, designed by QuantLase Imaging Lab, can provide testing results in seconds, even as it maintains the same level of accuracy as other tests to detect COVID-19, lab executives claimed in a virtual press conference.

“We’ve tested the equipment on 6,000 samples across 13 sites so far, and it is working. The equipment can be used to detect any virus that affects patients’ blood, but it can be [tailored] to detect COVID-19,” Peter Abraham, executive director at International Holding Group, an Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange-listed investment firm that owns QuantLase.

Abraham told Gulf News that each test on the lab’s new technology could cost as less as Dh100, and that costs may even be halved with mass production. If realised, this would make the test cheaper than the RT-PCR tests that are the currently the global gold standard for coronavirus testing, which come in at about Dh200 a kit.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, researchers around the world have been working to develop accurate technology to allow for mass testing. The RT-PRC tests, which require a nasal swab to collect genetic material, take an average of six to eight hours to be processed, and provide false negative rates – a situation where a person has contracted the virus but the infection remains undetected – of as low as three per cent.

According to Dr Pramod Kumar, head of research at QuantLase, the lab’s new test takes only seconds to administer. The person being screened provides a blood sample. This is then inserted into the equipment, and laser light is shone onto it. When the light is scattered by cells, interference is used to create patterns on a screen.

Dr Kumar explained that different cells have different signature patterns when exposed to this equipment. Healthy blood cells create clear circular rings, whereas infected blood cells produce a more diffuse pattern. This pattern differs from infection to infection, and can allegedly be refined through the use of AI to specifically detect COVID-19.

The technology has not yet been approved by the UAE government, but Abraham is hopeful.

“We have a very clear mandate to get this out quickly, and we are working very hard to ensure trials. The aim is to produce it locally, and ultimately to manufacture worldwide as we share this sophisticated equipment; economies of scale will reduce the cost of production,” he explained.

It was not clear just how many false negatives the new test provides, which has been a concern for all novel tests proposed by researchers. With the UAE implementing wide-scale testing, including screening residents in densely populated areas of the country, test accuracy will remain of supreme importance as the country works to limit the outbreak.