Scientists can start using X-rays instead of standard PCR tests to diagnose Covid-19, after a team developed a revolutionary technology capable of detecting the virus in minutes.
The research, conducted by a team from UWS (University of Western Scotland), involves a custom-designed AI (artificial intelligence) algorithm that compares x-ray scans of a patient with up to 3,000 images of people suffering from COVID-19. 19, healthy people and patients with viral pneumonia.
From there, the technology can warn if a patient actually has the coronavirus, with 98 percent accuracy.
Compared to polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which takes about two hours to return a result, this new method provides a diagnosis in just a few minutes, which, if implemented, could ease the strain on health systems around the world.
Professor Naim Ramadan, who led A team of three people developed the project At UWS, he said: “There has been a need for a fast and reliable tool that can detect Covid-19 for a long time, and this has become even more true with the advent of the omicron variant.”
“A number of countries are unable to conduct a large number of COVID-19 tests due to limited diagnostic tools, but this technology uses readily available technology to quickly detect the virus.”
However, Professor Ramadan, director of the Center for Research on Human and Emotional Computing for Intelligent Environments at UWS, stressed that the need for PCR testing is unlikely to go away.
“Covid-19 symptoms are not visible on x-rays during the early stages of infection, so it is important to note that the technology cannot completely replace PCR tests,” he said.
However, it can play an important role in limiting the spread of the virus, especially when PCR tests are not available. It could be crucial and potentially life-saving.”
The researchers now plan to expand the study of their new test technology by comparing a larger number of X-ray images, to see if the technology could be implemented in hospitals and clinics.
PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, are molecular tests that require scientists in laboratories to amplify small amounts of RNA from a given sample into DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid) through a machine called a heat cycler.
This DNA then replicates until the covid-19 virus, if present, is detected. One of the chemicals in the device would produce a fluorescent light if Sars-CoV-2 was detected.
While it is still considered the most effective form of testing, it can be time consuming; UK waiting times were up to five days during delta and omicron variable waves.
If scientists can turn to X-rays and computer analysis, they may become more efficient at identifying the virus.
Professor Milan Radosavljevic, deputy director of research, innovation and engagement at UWS, described the new findings as “potentially a game-changer”.
“I am extremely proud of the drive and innovation demonstrated by our internationally renowned academics, as they strive to find solutions to pressing global problems,” he said.
The news comes after testing requirements changed in England earlier this month, meaning that from January 11th, asymptomatic people who tested positive for Covid-19 via a bypass machine no longer need a confirmatory PCR test.