In order to speed up the detection of novel coronavirus, the University of Macau (UM) has stepped up the development of a digital-microfluidic-chip-based system to help tackle the epidemic outbreak. With the help of ‘Virus Hunter’, a rapid test kit developed with UM patented technology, the whole virus detection process can be completed within 30 minutes.
The study was conducted by a team formed by researchers from UM’s State Key Laboratory of Analog and Mixed-Signal VLSI (AMS-VLSI) and PhD graduates. The research team has been in touch with relevant medical units and the system will be available to frontline medical personnel upon verification.
The rapid test kit ‘Virus Hunter’ is developed by Digifluidic Biotech Ltd and is supported by patented technology from UM. Most nucleic acid reagent test kits for the novel coronavirus available on the market can only be used inside polymerase chain reaction laboratory (PCR) labs and cannot be used to conduct onsite tests. The ‘Virus Hunter’ test kit includes nasopharyngeal swab, detection chips containing reagent, as well as equipment for rapid detection. The test kit allows frontline personnel to conduct onsite rapid tests on suspected coronavirus patients and thus helps to streamline the detection process.
Chen Tianlan, founder of Digifluidic Biotech Ltd, is a PhD graduate of UM’s Faculty of Science and Technology and the AMS-VLSI Lab. During his time at UM, he participated in the development of various bio-microelectronics projects, including the Digifluidic Project, and helped to commercialise the research results into products. The company was found by several UM PhD students. It entered incubation stage on Hengqin island, Zhuhai, in 2017, and was then officially established in 2018. The company is mainly responsible for the production of portable pathogen testing devices.
According to Chen, some nucleic acid reagent test kits on the market claim to take less than 30 minutes to complete detection. However, most of them are based on immunological tests and cannot detect viruses in the early stages of infection. In comparison, ‘Virus Hunter‘ uses UM-patented digital microfluidic chips, which replace the manual control part of traditional reagent-based tests with nucleic acid tests and thus can help to increase detection efficiency and reduce risk of virus transmission.
To enhance in-depth integration between industry, universities, and research institutes, UM encourages faculty members and students to initiate innovative research studies. Since its establishment in 2003, UM’s AMS-VLSI Lab has distinguished itself internationally in chip design and has been promoting industry-academia collaboration with steady research output. The lab is currently ranked No 2 in the world in terms of the number of academic papers in chip design. In 2019, UM established an industry-academia collaboration base on Hengqin island through the UM Science and Technology Research Institute. The base carries out R&D activities in chip design, IoT applications for smart cities, materials technology, Chinese medicine quality research, and cancer diagnosis and treatment, while fostering the commercialisation of UM’s research outcomes. Furthermore, via technology transfer and other supportive measures, UM nurtures tech companies such as DigiFluidic to contribute to the community, the country and beyond.