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New rapid coronavirus diagnostic testing technology to be deployed at Addenbrooke’s Hospital




A new rapid diagnostic test for Covid-19 that can diagnose the infection in under 90 minutes is to be deployed at Addenbrooke’s Hospital.

Research nurses from the NIHR Clinical Research Facility processing patient samples using SAMBA machines at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Picture: Cambridge University Hospitals(32842421)
Research nurses from the NIHR Clinical Research Facility processing patient samples using SAMBA machines at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge. Picture: Cambridge University Hospitals(32842421)

Diagnostics for the Real World, a University of Cambridge spinout company, has developed the SAMBA II machines to provide a simple and accurate system for the diagnosis of Covid-19.

It will be used by healthcare workers at the point of care to rapidly diagnose patients and direct those who test positive for the infection to dedicated wards.

The SAMBA II machines can also help identify which healthcare workers are infected, enabling those who test negative to return to the frontline.

The machines will be made available to a number of hospitals across the country thanks to a $3m donation from businessman and philanthropist Sir Chris Hohn to purchase 100 machines.

It means that Addenbrooke’s Hospital, part of the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust, will obtain the first 10 SAMBA II machines this week - ahead of being launched in hospitals nationwide - for use in wards where suspected Covid-19 patients are brought in.

The donation will be matched by the purchase of 10 additional machines by the Cambridge trust.

SAMBA II looks for tiny traces of genetic material belonging to the virus, amplifies it billions of times chemically and is therefore extremely sensitive in the detection of active infections.

Patients provide a nasal and throat swab and once uploaded to the machine, the remainder of the process is fully automated.

“Our goal has always been to make cutting-edge technology so simple and robust that the SAMBA machine can be placed literally anywhere and operated by anyone with minimum training,” said Dr Helen Lee, CEO of Diagnostics for the Real World.

Sir Chris Hohn said: “We urgently need rapid diagnostic tests to help the NHS and Public Health England manage the coronavirus outbreak and identify those patients at risk to themselves and to others.

“I’m delighted to have supported Dr Lee’s important research and now help begin the rollout of this cutting-edge technology across the NHS. This is a game changer.”

Image of SAMBA II testing machines. Picture: Diagnostics for the Real World (32842423)
Image of SAMBA II testing machines. Picture: Diagnostics for the Real World (32842423)

Current tests can take over 24 hours or longer to deliver their results, but SAMBA II is able to deliver a diagnosis in less than 90 minutes.

The tests have been validated by Public Health England, Cambridge, in 102 patient samples and shown to have 98.7 per cent sensitivity (ability to correctly identify positive cases) and 100 per cent specificity (the ability to correctly identify negative cases) compared to the currently used NHS/Public Health England test.

Dr Martin Curran, who conducted the evaluation, said: “I am extremely happy with the performance of the SAMBA test because it matched the routine centralised laboratory results.”

Professor Ravi Gupta from the Cambridge Institute for Therapeutic Immunology and Infectious Disease, who is leading the ‘COVIDx’ clinical study to evaluate the impact of the test, said: “Testing healthcare workers could help reduce the risk of infection in healthcare facilities themselves, which might in turn assist national control efforts.

“It will also reduce the number of staff self-isolating for symptoms as we could use the test to determine who is actually infected. At present the lack of testing is resulting in severe staff shortages nationally.”

Research nurses to support COVIDx will be provided by the NIHR Cambridge Biomedical Research Centre.

Researchers at Cambridge will also be using SAMBA II to test healthcare workers in high-risk areas such as intensive care units or Covid-19 wards.

Their aim is to see whether the tests can identify asymptomatic individuals – those who are infected but do not realise it – so that they can self-isolate and prevent inadvertent transmission.

The technology behind SAMBA II was developed while Dr Lee was at Cambridge’s Department of Haematology.

The development of the technology has been supported by Wellcome, the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the US National Institutes of Health and Cambridge Enterprise, among others.

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