UAE develops a Rapid Coronavirus laser testing technology

QuantLase Imaging Lab, the medical-research arm of the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange-listed International Holdings Company (IHC), announced that it has developed novel equipment which enables for much faster mass screenings, with test results available in seconds and allowing testing on a wider scale.

The technology will reinforce the UAE's position as a hub of research and innovation, as scientists around the world scramble to devise a faster method of testing for patients suspected to have been infected with the coronavirus and potentially identifying carriers before they become infectious.  This break-through will enable 'Mass-scale screening', changing the whole dimension of tracing and the speed with which workforces can be approached.

AbdulRahman bin Mohammed Al Owais, Minister of Health and Prevention, expressed hope over the discovery saying: "We are always following innovations related to the early and rapid detection of Covid–19.  The government is keen on supporting initiatives that help the healthcare system in the UAE. Health officials have been closely monitoring the progress of trials with QuantLase in order to test this equipment. We are proud to see a technology that works and that will help to protect our people better."

"The equipment, which uses a CMOS detector, will enable mass-scale screening with results made available in seconds," said Dr Pramod Kumar, who leads the team of researchers at the lab which has been studying the change in cell structure of the virus-infected blood.

"In fact, our laser-based DPI [Diffractive Phase Interferometry] technique, based on optical-phase modulation, is able to give a signature of infection within a few seconds. What's more, it is user-friendly, non-invasive and low-cost. The device is suitable for use not only in hospitals and public places like cinemas and shopping malls, but with a 'little hands-on training' it can be used for in-house testing and monitoring. We believe it will be a game-changer in tackling the spread of the coronavirus."

Explaining the critical role of artificial intelligence (AI) in the diagnostic system, Dr Kumar said that an advanced AI image-analysis model predicts the outcome of each image with precision, speed and scale. This is especially critical in large-scale testing programs, where a massive number of images needs to be analysed with accuracy and efficiency. The lab is using G42, a leading AI and Cloud Computing company, to further enhance the laser program.  

Commenting on the invention, Nader Ahmed Al Hammadi, member of the Board of Directors at IHC: "IHC is proud to play a role in contributing to the robust efforts made by the UAE leadership in fighting the Covid-19 outbreak, especially with regards to testing and raising awareness."

"With the first 1,000 tests, we refined our experiment and then applied it to the rest of the trials," Dr Kumar said. "The process passed through several stages, and most recently was being trialled on a large scale, in line with current testing procedures."

Since the World Health Organization's declaration of Covid-19 as a global pandemic in March, scientists have been trying to develop a technology that would not only reduce the diagnosis time, but one that would enable doctors to concentrate on patients on the basis of need. It currently takes several hours to diagnose a Covid-19 case.

The lab hopes to be able to roll out the product in the market in a few months, Dr Kumar added. So far, the machine has produced results with high accuracy in optimal control setup, according to Dr Kumar. "As far as early stage detection is concerned, our DPI technique is capable to detect as soon as the blood cell gets infected. Our aim is to eventually reach the maximum level of accuracy."

Achieving scientific breakthroughs that focus on the welfare of people is one of the pillars of the National Strategy for Advanced Innovation announced by the UAE government in February 2018. The new strategy also calls for collaboration with leading international institutions and companies specialized in the field of innovation.

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