Rapid monkeypox test under development at Lancaster University to spearhead global response to emerging outbreaks

Professor Muhammad Munir

Scientists at Lancaster University are developing a portable diagnostic test which can detect the monkeypox virus - along with a raft of other viruses - within 30 minutes.

The handheld device has been engineered to test six patient samples simultaneously using an isothermal technique, which is easier and quicker than a conventional, and more laborious, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test and does not require the same costly laboratory equipment.

The isothermal test is performed in a single tube and can be used in the field with minimal training while providing error-free result interpretation.

The project has been designed and led by Lancaster University’s renowned Molecular Virologist, Professor Muhammad Munir.

He said: “Learning from COVID-19, it is imperative to urgently develop a smart diagnostic platform for a fast and reliable early detection of monkeypox infections, which can be deployed in multiple vulnerable communities and hard-to-reach areas.

“The isothermal technique used by our testing unit makes it much more transportable and manageable in a wide range of scenarios, while initial pre-trial testing shows impressively accurate results.

“We expect to attract significant industry partners to work with us on validating and applying this smart testing system, which can have a huge social impact for the global population at large.”

The evolving nature of the global monkeypox outbreak requires a rapid detection solution which can work accurately and quickly in the field to ensure the infection can be immediately contained.

The new state-of-the-art, cost-effective battery-powered testing device can also be installed at point-of-care facilities and in other places where people regularly gather, such as sports arenas and concert venues. After each use, the device can be easily cleaned and re-used to run additional tests as many times as needed, essentially providing the ability to screen high numbers of samples within a day. The system also features contact tracing technology to help facilitate a timely reaction before an outbreak develops.

The diagnostic tool is currently awaiting initial clinical trials, where samples collected from monkeypox-infected patients will be tested and verified to ensure the system works correctly before it is made available to health service providers – and the public.

Senior Research Associate Dr Mohammed Rohaim said: “The simplicity of the test makes it appropriate for developing countries and an excellent choice for building point-of-care molecular diagnostic services in resource-limited setting, while promoting broader screening of the population.”

Dr Leonie Unterholzner, a Senior Lecturer at Lancaster University, who has been working on poxviruses for more than 15 years, added: “Reliable testing is a cornerstone for the containment of any infection. A handheld device for the detection of monkeypox virus will be particularly useful for targeted community testing, or in settings where access to central diagnostic laboratories is limited.”

The project is being supported by Lancaster University and the Department of Biomedical and Life Sciences.

Professor Roger Pickup, Chair of Biomedicine and Life Sciences at the institution, added: “The need for accurate, field-based testing is essential to provide rapid responses to these increasing threats to human health.”

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