The NIRVANA field-test kit. (Credit: Mo Li/KAUST)

A new viral screening test diagnoses COVID-19 in a matter of minutes with a portable, pocket-sized machine. It also simultaneously tests for other viruses — like influenza — that might be mistaken for the coronavirus. At the same time, clinicians can sequence the virus, providing valuable information on the spread of COVID-19 mutations and variants.

A gene-detection approach called isothermal recombinase polymerase amplification (RPA) coupled with real-time nanopore sequencing offers a more useful — and faster, cheaper, and more portable — method than the current COVID-19 testing approach. The small, portable device can screen 96 samples at the same time using the RPA assay. The researchers call the method NIRVANA, for “nanopore sequencing of isothermal rapid viral amplification for near real-time analysis.”

The scientists designed NIRVANA to simultaneously test samples for COVID-19, influenza A, human adenovirus, and non-SARS-CoV-2 human coronavirus. In just 15 minutes, the researchers report, the device begins to report positive and negative results. And within three hours, the device finalizes results on all 96 samples — including the sequences of five regions of SARS-CoV-2 that are particularly prone to accumulate mutations leading to new variants such as the B.1.1.7 variant identified in the UK.