Ordinary test equipment using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method takes at least a few hours to detect a specific DNA strain type. The highly-accurate test technique also requires bulky testing equipment because the test specimens repeatedly need to be heated to temperatures between 60 and 95 degrees Celsius (140 and 203 degrees Fahrenheit).
Quick test kits that provide COVID-19 test results in 15 minutes were introduced to South Korea in 2020 when the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic hit the country but the test kits were only about 50 percent accurate when they were used by professional medical personnel, according to a medical survey of 5,792 COVID-19 patients, conducted by South Korea's Joongang University Medical School in 2022.
The Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST) said that its research team used a photothermal nanomaterial to reduce the time taken for a PCR test to five minutes. Because the newly-developed technique does not need large thermal plates for heating test samples, the testing device can be made into a portable size. Researchers plan to commercialize the device in 2023.
According to KIST, the photothermal nanomaterial used in the new PCR test device creates heat when shone with light. The researchers used a high-polymer composite to physically hold the nanomaterial together. The technique is capable of detecting multiple microparticles through a single test, meaning that different variants of COVID-19 viruses can be screened.
"Through additional research, we plan to miniaturize the PCR technique and develop devices that can be used anywhere," KIST researcher Kim Sang-kyung said in a statement on January 5. Kim added that the device will be commercialized to be used at small hospitals by general practitioners, pharmacies, and homes.
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