UW researchers develop faster, more affordable COVID-19 test

Mark Stone/University of Washington
The Harmony COVID-19 test includes a small, inexpensive detector (left) that can processes four reaction tubes — shown in the detector — and a sample collection device (center). Results are displayed on a smartphone

SEATTLE– A faster, cheaper new way to test for COVID-19 could be coming out soon.

It’s called ‘The Harmony’ COVID-19 test and it’s being developed by researchers at the Univerity of Washington. The test takes the best parts of the others that are already available and combines them. Scientists said it has the speed of an over-the-counter antigen test and the accuracy of a PCR test.

Like the PCR test, it detects genetic material from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The biggest difference is that the Harmony test can have results ready in less than 20 minutes. PRC tests can take up to several hours.

“We designed the test to be low-cost and simple enough that it could be used anywhere,” said Barry Lutz, a UW associate professor of bioengineering and investigator with the Brotman Baty Institute for Precision Medicine. “We hope that the low cost will make high-performance testing more accessible locally and around the world.”

Lutz is the senior author of a paper published in December in Science Advances that describes the Harmony COVID-19 test kit.

Researchers said the accuracy of COVID-19 tests has been up for debate throughout the pandemic. At-home antigen kits for COVID-19 are usually anywhere from 80-85 percent accurate, UW researchers reported. Then, PCR tests are generally 95-percent accurate or better, but need expensive equipment to process and can take hours to get a result.

UW researchers said their Harmony tests are 97 percent accurate for nasal swabs. Then, a smartphone is used to operate the detector and read the results.

You can read about the developing test here.

Lutz said he and his team want the tests to be available to clinics, schools and other workplaces with “medical oversight.” Then, the Harmoney tests could be adapted for people to use at home.

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