By Alex Brown
As the World begins to tentatively remerge from the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, development of reliable testing methods are essential to stop the spread of the disease.
At present, Covid-19 testing is conducted through blood tests or by taking a sample from the back of the throat using a cotton swab. These methods are not only invasive but typically also require the presence of a healthcare professional. However, Welsh scientists have provided a breakthrough by developing a potential inexpensive and large-scale test for COVID-19.
For the past 40 years dried blood spot (DBS) samples have been used to test newborn babies for inherited disorders such as HIV and Hepatitis C. DBS testing is an antibody test that utilises specialised filter paper cards. A single drop of blood from a skin prick is applied to the paper and is sent to a laboratory. The discs on the card are intended to be ‘punched out’ to which specialised liquid is used to release the antibodies for testing.
Professionals from University Hospital Wales, Cardiff University and the Welsh Blood Services have managed to adapt DBS methods to test for COVID-19 antibodies in adults.
Cardiff University experts altered the DBS method by utilising an ELISA (Enzyme linked Immunosorbent Assay) antibody test. ELISA was adapted for DBS samples and then applied to an NHS automated platform at University Hospital Wales, therefore allowing multiple DBS samples to be tested simultaneously.
Professor Ian Weeks OBE, Dean of Clinical Innovation at Cardiff University’s College of Biomedical and Life Sciences has high hopes for the innovation. He said,
“This approach could prove important in tackling the Covid-19 pandemic. The test only requires a finger prick sample of blood, rather like a diabetic patient checking their blood sugar levels.”
He also highlighted how this method of testing can reduce the risk of further transmission, as the test can be taken at home without the presence of healthcare workers.
Alan Prosser, Director of the Welsh Blood Service also reiterated its convenience as it does not require complex equipment and can be posted directly to automated laboratories, which can relay the results onto the NHS pathology bases. As the threat of transmission is an even greater concern for those shielding, this method will allow testing where distance is necessary and blood sample resources are limited.
Len Richards, Chief Executive of Cardiff and Vale University Health Board, enthused that the method,
“is a superb example of clinical innovation-adapting existing techniques and technologies to address future challenges.”
He was also optimistic for the large-scale use of DBS for testing specific groups of people, for example teachers, nursing home residents and healthcare professionals.
The testing methods are currently being assessed for its application on samples of greater quantity, meanwhile seeking funding for its mass production to become a possibility.