Hong Kong Students Create Cheap and Fast Flu Detection Solution

RAPID may distinguish influenza type by detecting its RNA target sequence in 30 minutes

Hong Kong University

A small, self-testing solution that detects various influenza viruses has been developed by a group of Hong Kong university students. 

This solution includes a device and software which has the potential to enable healthcare providers to distinguish between the common cold and influenza, in just 30 minutes. 

Influenza and the common cold are both respiratory illnesses, but they are caused by different viruses, says the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).   

This genetic engineering team of undergraduate students at The Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK), has been awarded a Gold medal at the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) 2018 Giant Jamboree held in Boston, USA. 

The winning project designed by the CUHK iGEM team was named “RAPID: RNA aptamer probe influenza detector”.

RAPID can differentiate between the common cold and influenza, which is often a challenge for most healthcare providers. 

Even if a doctor diagnoses the flu, a laboratory test is still required to confirm its type (A, B or C) and subtype, such as H1N1, H5N1, and H7N9. 

According to these students, patients can use RAPID at home to detect whether they are infected with the flu and seek medical advice in time, which will improve anti-epidemic efficiency. 

The RAPID distinguishes the virus’s type by detecting its RNA target sequence. 

This novel tool is based on the switchable light-up RNA aptamer, which undergoes a conformational change upon hybridization with another strand of nucleic acid, leading to an observable fluorescent signal. 

This tool can be modified to detect theoretically any RNA target sequence, including influenza and other virus genomes. 

The CUHK iGEM team designed a mobile phone-based fluorometer to detect the signal of the aptamer, as well as an accompanying software which makes use of the technique of machine learning to analyze the testing result. 

Professor Chan King-Ming, one of the instructors of the team and associate professor of the School of Life Sciences at CUHK, remarked in a press release, “Students from different majors work together collaboratively, with their own expertise, from designing the hardware to making bio bricks and doing experiments as a team.”

“It’s been a great experience for them to compete with other teams from top universities in the Jamboree.” 

These undergraduate students are from the Faculty of Business Administration, the Faculty of Engineering, the School of Biomedical Science of the Faculty of Medicine, and the School of Life Sciences of the Faculty of Science at The Chinese University of Hong Kong.   

iGEM is an annual premier synthetic biology competition worldwide for high school, undergraduate and postgraduate students.  It was established by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 2004 to foster students’ learning in synthetic biology, promote collaboration among students and nurture biology talent.