NTNU COVID-19 test

NTNU COVID-19 test

Image from the lab where NTNU produces the COVID-19 test
Image from the laboratory where NTNU produces the COVID-19 test
Photo: Geir Mogen/NTNU

Why NTNU developed a new test method

Why NTNU developed a new test method

After several weeks of intensive testing for the coronavirus, St. Olavs hospital in Trondheim was running out of test equipment.

To prevent a shortage of test materials, as well as limit the country’s dependence on commercial sources for test equipment, researchers from NTNU’s Department of Clinical and Molecular Medicine and the Department of Chemical Engineering teamed up to develop their own test method.

The result is a new method based on known processes, that uses an in-house chemical mix and NTNU-crafted magnetic nanoparticles. Preliminary results indicate that the NTNU test is at least as sensitive compared to the best methods on the market.


How does the new coronavirus test work?

How does the new coronavirus test work?

Illustration: NTNU Technology Transfer
Illustration: NTNU Technology Transfer (click for larger version of the image).

The coronavirus test involves several steps:

  1. A sample is taken from nose and/or throat.
  2. The sample is mixed with a chemical solution that causes the protein envelope around the virus to crack open so that the virus's RNA (genetic material) is released.
  3. The sample is then mixed with magnetic nanoparticles to which the coronavirus RNA binds.
  4. The magnetic nanoparticles, covered with RNA, are extracted from the solution with a magnet.
  5. RNA is released from the nanoparticles by adding water.
  6. A standard PCR analysis determines if the sample contains coronavirus RNA.

Here’s how NTNU developed an effective coronavirus test

Here’s how NTNU developed an effective coronavirus test

Electron microscope image showing magnetic nanoparticles
An image of the magnetic nanoparticles used in NTNU’s COVID-19 test (click for larger version of the image).
Photo: Electron microscope image taken by NTNU NanoLab, April 2020.

1. Researchers optimized a process to identify small amounts of the coronavirus

An RNA molecule is essentially the genetic material from the coronavirus. The RNA molecules of the virus are protected by a protein envelope and are closely surrounded by other molecules. That means when a sample is taken from someone infected with the virus, the first challenge is to "unpack" the virus's RNA so that it can be analysed.

NTNU has developed a specific combination of polar solvents, buffers, salts and other chemicals to achieve this without damaging the RNA molecule itself. NTNU researchers were able to optimize this combination to extract RNA from small amounts of virus.

2. Magnetic nanoparticles efficiently capture RNA from the coronavirus

Once the RNA molecules have been liberated from the virus, they must be extracted from the solution for analysis. The NTNU test uses iron oxide magnetic nanoparticles covered with a substance that strongly binds RNA. Once the magnetic nanoparticles are coated with the viral RNA, they can be removed from the solution using a magnet.

NTNU has developed and filed patent applications on an upscalable process for producing these high-quality, high-performance magnetic nanoparticles. The newly developed technology allows the NTNU lab to produce particles for roughly 10,000 tests in one production cycle. The process can then be further scaled up by running several production lines in parallel. Today, NTNU can produce 100,000 tests a day. It is possible to scale up this process even further.


NTNU COVID-19 test provided to the Norwegian health care system

NTNU COVID-19 test provided to the Norwegian health care system

NTNU has been commissioned by the Norwegian Directorate of Health to provide COVID-19 tests for Norway’s health care system.

The university is already delivering 100,000 tests a week to other Norwegian university hospitals. By further scaling up production, more than 300,000 tests can be delivered per week.

The COVID-19 tests will be used to test:

  • health professionals with symptoms or who have been exposed to infection
  • especially vulnerable people in the population

The Norwegian Institute for Public Health and the Directorate of Health will continuously update the status of testing and future plans here.

The hope is that the newly developed test will mean that access to tests will no longer be a limiting factor in the ability of the Norwegian health care system to test for the coronavirus.


Press contacts

Press contacts

Nancy Bazilchuk – international media
+47 918 97 321 / nancy.bazilchuk@ntnu.no

Idun Haugan – national media
+47 922 62 889 / idun.haugan@ntnu.no

Contact NTNU Technology Transfer

Contact NTNU Technology Transfer

Tonje S. Steigedal
+47 905 52 334 / tonje.s.steigedal@ntnu.no

Eivind Andersen
+47 900 30 570 / eivind.andersen@ntnu.no

Photos

Photos

Multidisciplinary team:

Multidisciplinary team:

Researchers from three different departments at NTNU have been involved in the development of the new test. St. Olavs hospital has also been an important contributor.

NTNU’s collaboration on the COVID-19 test is a good example of how new connections from different professional environments can help to solve social challenges in an effective way.

Department of Microbiology, St. Olav’s Hospital

Department of Microbiology, St. Olav’s Hospital

Janne Fossum Malmring, Senior biomedical laboratory scientist


NTNU Taskforce on COVID-19 in communities

NTNU Taskforce on COVID-19 in communities

NTNU has established an interdisciplinary expert group with participants from four faculties to develop a model framework that describes how COVID-19 dynamics in individual municipalities in Norway change as a result of national guidelines. In addition, the framework is able, for a given set of conditions, to find optimal solutions for how policymakers can proceed to normalize as much of Norway as possible before a vaccine is available.