An AI-assisted diagnostic test for COVID and other diseases

Friday, 12 January, 2024

An AI-assisted diagnostic test for COVID and other diseases

A new AI-assisted molecular diagnostic platform, capable of identifying variants of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, has been developed by scientists in the UK. Described in the journal Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences, the low-cost, portable device could play a crucial role in preventing future pandemics due to its accuracy and versatility.

Scientists from the University of Surrey, Brunel University London and Lancaster University, in collaboration with the NHS, GB Electronics and Vidiia, created the platform known as VIDIIA Hunter (VH6). It uses reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) technology in combination with an artificial intelligence (AI)-based deep learning model. The AI model has been trained to read the results of tests identifying infectious diseases, including COVID-19, and removes users’ interpretation and errors while improving accuracy.

“Lateral flow tests are an efficient way of testing if you have COVID-19; however, there has always been a question mark over their accuracy, which has only been heightened with the emerging number of variants now in circulation,” said Professor Roberto La Ragione from the University of Surrey. “As COVID-19 continues to evolve, we need to evolve with it and have highly accurate tests that can be readily used without the need for laboratory facilities.”

To confirm the accuracy of VH6, the scientists tested 150 COVID-19 positive clinical nasal swabs with a range of viral loads and 250 negative samples provided by NHS Berkshire, Surrey Pathology and Royal Lancaster Infirmary. The test was found to be highly accurate, with a detection rate of 98% and a specificity of 100%. Additional testing found the device detected all the COVID-19 variants that have circulated in the UK since December 2020.

To monitor and track the spread of infectious diseases, the test is connected to a smartphone app that allows an operator to manage and track the patients and samples. Results and graphs are displayed on the app in as little time as 20–30 min and automatically connect to a cloud. The platform allows near-patient testing and has the potential to detect infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever, as well as antimicrobial resistance.

“The VH6 diagnostics platform has been approved for COVID-19 testing in the UK, but also has the potential to diagnose current and emerging infectious disease and antimicrobial resistance,” said Dr Aurore Poirier from the University of Surrey. “Its portability, rapidity, accuracy and affordability allow for near-patient testing in all laboratory and healthcare settings, including low-resources ones. The VIDIIA Hunter therefore has the potential to help control future outbreaks.”

Unusually, the test can be used for both human and animal health care, which is a crucial step in identifying any future zoonotic diseases that could spread between the two. As noted by Professor Muhammad Munir, from Lancaster University, “Incorporation of LAMP technology with advanced modules of AI has empowered the earliest, reliable and economical detection of infections, including COVID-19, and holds potential for the detection of diseases in both humans and animals, making it a tool of significant medical importance.”

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