Photo/Illutration A newly developed automatic detection device for the novel coronavirus that produces a result in a fraction of the time it takes to do a PCR test (Provided by the Riken research institute)

Japanese researchers announced the development of precision diagnostic testing equipment for COVID-19 that produces a result in only 9 minutes.

They added that the method has the potential to “be applied to earlier detection of cancer and other disorders as well.”

The team, comprised primarily of members from the Riken research institute, the University of Tokyo, Kyoto University, Tokyo Medical and Dental University and Jichi Medical University in Tochigi Prefecture, said the test has an accuracy rate of more than 98 percent.

Aside from producing a result far faster than a typical polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, the procedure costs about the same, just $2 (269 yen).

Team members relied on technology developed last year to identify viruses without proliferating their genetic material. The technique’s sensitivity improved 1,400-fold during the latest round of testing.

“We aim to deliver our device to clinics in towns for speedier diagnoses,” said Rikiya Watanabe, a chief scientist at Riken in Wako, Saitama Prefecture, who was involved in the project. 

In April 2021, the researchers unveiled what they call the SATORI method, which relies on the function of an enzyme that beomes active when mixed with viruses' genetic material.

This method detects the presence of viruses when light emitted from fluorescent substances mixed with enzymes and specimens in a solution. The enzymes activated by the viruses in the specimens cause the fluorescent substances to emit light. 

Samples from saliva and throat mucous membranes are mixed with the enzyme and luminous substance. The mixture is then placed in a dish resembling a compact disc comprised of microchambers to gauge the chemical reaction, thereby allowing the light-emitting parts to be counted.

The time it took to produce a positive result improved dramatically. A PCR test takes an hour or so due to its genetic material amplification process.

A remaining challenge to overcome was the SATORI technology’s lower detection sensitivity than PCR tests.

The team then discovered an easier-to-activate enzyme to heighten sensitivity. Magnetic beads were used, which attached themselves to the enzyme to reach the microchambers more easily.

Those efforts resulted in an improved positive accuracy rate of more than 98 percent and allowed the testing cost to be lowered to $2, equivalent to that of a PCR analysis.

After creating a fully automated detection machine fitted with a specimen preparation robot and a microscope for measurements, the examination time ended up being reduced to just 9 minutes.

With an eye on commercialization of the device next fiscal year, the team aims to tie up with a business partner to make the equipment smaller.

The device can identify different variants of the novel coronavirus, and the technology is anticipated to be utilized in the future for other sorts of infectious diseases.