In light of the growing concerns of the COVID-19 pandemic, researchers at the University of Toronto (U of T) are working with their teams to develop efficient and portable tests.

Keith Pardee, an assistant professor of pharmacy, was part of an international team who developed a portable test system to detect the Zika virus back in 2016.

Currently, Pardee’s lab in the U of T Pharmacy Faculty is developing a sensitive assay for COVID-19 virus diagnosis. The team has created a diagnostic system that will be able to perform 14,000 COVID-19 tests and is packed in a standard moving box, called “lab in a box.”

 The lab-in-a-box is cost-effective at a cost margin less than $1 and is fairly sensitive to detecting the virus at clinically relevant serum concentrations. The platform can also be deployed to COVID-19 test centers in remote areas in Canada and other countries where tests are not readily available.

“What we are trying to do is make that functional clinical capacity available more globally,” said Pardee to The Medium. “Our current test format costs about $2 per test. In the proposed COVID-19 work, our goal is to reduce the cost to [approximately] $0.25 per test.”

Xinyu Liu, an associate professor of mechanical engineering, and his team, in collaboration with Pardee’s project, are working on packaging the COVID-19 test to make it portable. Ultimately, Liu’s team hopes to develop a handheld COVID-19 diagnostic device. 

“For the recent CIHR COVID-19 Rapid Response fund we received, my group is developing a handheld diagnostic device with a paper micro-chip for rapid and accurate diagnosis of COVID-19 infection,” continued Liu. “The handheld diagnostic device my group is developing will implement the same assay from the Pardee group but complement the lab-in-a-box platform by targeting COVID-19 diagnostic needs at ports of entry, home, or a primary care doctor’s office, under which conditions the lab-in-a-box platform is usually unsuitable for use.”

Liu estimates a prototype of the handheld device will be ready in three months, when testing with medical organizations can begin.

“The ongoing work of my group includes design, fabrication, and testing of the handheld diagnostic device and the paper micro-chip to realize the diagnostic assay in a rapid and easy-to-operate fashion,” said Liu. “We hope to have the first functional prototype of the handheld device in three months and will work with our medical collaborators to fully test its performance.”

Pardee’s lab-in-a-box will also undergo testing with collaborators soon.

“We are planning to send the tests to collaborators (Canadian Food Inspection Agency and Public Health Agency of Canada) at the National lab in Winnipeg in the coming weeks where our tests will be validated against live COVID-19 virus and clinical samples,” said Pardee. 

In Mississauga, there are now three COVID-19 cases confirmed, with the latest being an RBC employee from the office at Derry and Mississauga Road. Employees have been asked to stay home after health officials confirmed the employee tested positive for COVID-19.

Offices and establishments in Mississauga continue to upgrade their safety precautions following the latest coronavirus updates.

On March 12, the City of Mississauga released a statement announcing that all recreation, library, and cultural facilities will be closed from March 14 to April 4. This includes the Living Arts Centre, Meadowvale Theatre, Paramount Fine Foods Centre, and the Mississauga Seniors’ Centre.

MiWay services will continue to operate as usual, while the City Hall and the Provincial Offences Court will remain open.

The City of Mississauga has also increased the cleaning and disinfecting of common contact points in the city, especially the MiWay transit buses.

“Given the rise of cases of COVID-19 here at home and around the world, we are taking pro-active measures as a city to ensure the health and safety of our residents,” said Mississauga Mayor Bonnie Crombie in the city statement. “Closing all city recreation, library, and culture facilities to the public for three weeks is the right decision and is aligned with measures being taken in public schools and in other jurisdictions.”

University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) student and UTM MedLife co-president Shams Al-Badri also believes that the COVID-19 pandemic can be managed if people are educated on how the virus works and practice health safety precautions.

“I think the situation in Canada is currently not that bad, however I appreciate how the government and U of T has been updating us throughout this pandemic and how much money they are investing into finding a cure or better alternatives for testing,” said Al-Badri.

“I think the main thing that needs to be done is education on what the virus is and how to mitigate its spread, especially at a place where there are a lot of people in close proximity like UTM,” continued Al-Badri. “I feel like if they educate people on how to wash their hands properly and how to sneeze correctly, the fear around getting it would be reduced.”

            As of now, health professionals continue to advise the public to practice proper handwashing techniques and hygiene, avoid traveling when possible, and minimize physical contact with others.

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