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Taiwan invents chip able to identify asymptomatic COVID cases rapidly



(Courtesy of Focus Taiwan)

Taiwan’s Ministry of Science and Technology (MOST) has produced a new chip device that is capable of detecting COVID-19 cases with a very low viral load, as well as those who are asymptomatic, in three minutes.

MOST said that Taiwan’s Food and Drug Administration (TFDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) to the rapid testing chip at the end of 2021, following the completion of clinical trials on 142 cases at Kaohsiung Veterans General Hospital (KSVGH).

The ministry added that the innovative semiconductor product is expected to go to market as soon as February, with planned EUA applications in the United States and Japan in the works.

It was revealed that MOST had funded the project between Academia Sinica, the National Applied Research Laboratories (NARLabs), and Taipei-based Molecular Sensoring Technology Co., Ltd. (Molsentech).

According to the NARLabs, there are currently two kinds of rapid tests — antibody and antigen — for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test available on the market.

Though the rapid tests yield results in 15 minutes, the tests can sometimes provide false negatives and positives, while polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests take at least 90 minutes to reveal a result even though these are more accurate as they examine cycle threshold (CT) values, NARLabs explained.

KSVGH vice superintendent Chen Yao-sheng said at the news event that the results of clinical trials with the new computer chip in COVID-19 rapid testing indicated the device had a 96.8-percent accuracy rate in sensitivity and a 95.1-percent rate in specificity.

Moreover, the chip was 100-percent consistent in identifying COVID-19 positive samples with a CT value below 35, Chen said.

In other words, the chip can detect the virus when the viral load is very low and in the incubation period, Chen said, noting that this feature can help epidemic control significantly.

The chip device was developed based on the field-effect transistor biosensor (Bio-FET) developed by Academia Sinica’s Quantum Electronics Laboratory, according to Molsentech. (Courtesy of Focus Taiwan)