A new artificial intelligence (AI)-assisted molecular diagnostic platform capable of identifying variants of COVID-19 and other infectious diseases has been developed by scientists in the United Kingdom (UK).

Scientists from the University of Surrey, Brunel University London, and Lancaster University in collaboration with the NHS, GB Electronics Ltd, and Vidiia Ltd have created the platform known as VIDIIA Hunter (VH6). It uses reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) technology in combination with an 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 whilst 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,” says Roberto La Ragione, PhD, professor of veterinary microbiology and pathology at the University of Surrey, in a release. “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, 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, Lancaster. 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.

A study using this diagnostic platform was published in Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences.

“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,” says Aurore Poirier, PhD, first and co-corresponding author of the study and Research Fellow B at the University of Surrey, in a release. “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.”

To monitor and track the spread of COVID-19 and other 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 20 to 30 minutes and automatically connects to a cloud. The platform allows near-patient testing and has the potential to detect other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis and dengue fever, and antimicrobial resistance.

Unusually, the test can be used for human and animal healthcare, which is a crucial step in identifying any future zoonotic diseases that could spread between the two, according to researchers.

The VH6 has now been approved for medical use in the UK under the UK Health Security Agency’s Medical Devices (Coronavirus Test Device Approvals, CTDA) Regulations 2022 and is CE-IVD marked and MHRA registered.

Photo caption: VH6

Photo credit: Vidiia