Anyone who has traveled during the COVID-19 era will experience the ordeal of having to get tested within a specific pre-flight timeframe. Those unlucky enough to have been ill will experience the stress of wanting quick and convenient results.
In an effort to make COVID-19 testing cheaper and more accessible, organic chemist Vittorio Saggiomo, from the Bionanotechnology group at Wageningen University and Research in the Netherlands, has turned to common household appliances – in particular the capsule of the coffee machine. The study by Saggiomo and his team on the subject is published in the preprint server ChemArxiv.
Identify the ideal COVID-19 test for home use
Different COVID-19 tests have different advantages and disadvantages for certain situations. The PCR test, for example, is the most accurate. However, this test requires a carefully regulated temperature cycle using special equipment in a laboratory, and therefore takes longer and is more expensive than other types of test.
The lateral flow test (LFT) is much cheaper and faster, although it is also less accurate and only detects disease in people with a high viral load.
Saggiomo and his team’s test kits, nicknamed CoroNaspresso, are a type of loop-mediated isothermal amplification COVID-19 test kit (Lamp) made using a pan and capsule of Nespresso coffee.
Finally came out our super cheap, easy to produce in millions, almost universal, and with low impact nucleic acid detection on waste (LAMP test for # COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE) non-instrumental device. The answer is: a Nespresso capsule. The question is: why did we do this? 1 / nhttps://t.co/ZHe9JHqUcy pic.twitter.com/Llkb3VNhl4
– Vittorio Saggiomo (@V_Saggiomo) March 23, 2021
A big advantage of the Lamp test, like Mark Lorch, Professor of Science Communication and Chemistry at the University of Hull in the UK wrote in a item for The conversation, is that it can be performed at a fixed temperature (around 65 ° C, or 150 ° F).
This, along with the fact that the test uses a simple acid-based color indicator to indicate positive or negative, made it ideal for Saggiomo to try and reproduce at home using simple household appliances.
Coffee capsules for COVID-19 home testing
In order to regulate the temperature for testing, scientists usually use electric thermostats. However, as Saggiomo worked from home and tried to find a simple and inexpensive solution, he turned to substances called phase change materials that absorb heat when they melt, meaning they maintain a constant temperature.
Saggiomo found a wax made from a phase change material that melted at the exact temperature he needed. He then built an apparatus to house the reaction tubes of the lamp and pieces of wax.
All of this had to be inserted into a casing that could be heated without melting. Turns out the perfect candidate was a staple of Saggiomo’s breakfast routine: the Nespresso machine capsule.
After testing several methods of heating the device, Saggiomo found that the best method was a simple pot of simmering water on a stovetop.
Promising results of the COVID-19 test kit test
Saggiomo asked members of his team to test the resulting “CoroNaspresso” device in their own homes. In those tests, swabs from six people correctly identified three cases of COVID-19 by showing different colors.
The research team say the test, including the capsules, phase change wax and vials, would be easy to produce in the millions. People could take genetic material at home and then heat the capsules for their results.
The devices are also inexpensive at € 0.20 ($ 0.24) and are easy to use and largely recyclable. The work of Sagiommo and his team with the CoroNaspresso test kits is a shining example of using materials in the home to perform a function usually reserved for advanced machines.