A One Hour Covid Test developed by an open-source team has advanced them to the semi-finals for the XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing competition
In March, a small but global group of community scientists connected on the Just One Giant Lab (JOGL) collaborative platform with the goal of working together to develop SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic tests that are safe, simple, sensitive, inexpensive and accessible. Ideally, they want tests that can be run anywhere, even with limited facilities, and by people without a specific background in medicine or biology. One of the projects that came out of this group is the One Hour Covid Test led by Ellen Jorgensen, Founder of community labs Genspace and Biotech Without Borders and current Founder and Chief Science Officer at Aanika Biosciences; Sarah Ware, Founder of BioBlaze Community Bio Lab; and Chris Monaco, a Microbiologist at the CDC.
The ‘One-hour Covid Test using LAMP’ team has recently been selected as a semi-finalist in the XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing challenge, along with three other teams with the following projects on JOGL: Corona Hunter (check out our interview with the team), Do-It-Together SARS CoV-2 Detective (check out our interview with Rachel Aronoff), and COVID-ALERT (Accessible LAMP-Enabled Rapid Test) (check out our interview with Ali Bektas)! Congratulations to the teams!
So what is this One Hour Covid Test all about? On the JOGL website, they explain:
There is a shortage of SARS-CoV-2 testing around the world. Test protocols that diagnose infections or detect environmental contamination by the virus are not yet simple, affordable or widely accessible. Currently, most diagnostic testing is accomplished by Reverse Transcription–quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR). RT-qPCR is expensive, laborious and not… accessible to many people living in low-resource settings. Over-reliance on this complicated technique of molecular amplification limits people in many regions of the globe from knowing whether the virus is present and hinders public health efforts.
Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification (LAMP) is an affordable, robust, simple and open detection method which requires only a single incubation temperature and can be done in a cup of hot water. A recent preliminary report from New England Biolabs (NEB) used LAMP to detect SARS-CoV-2 in conjunction with a pH indicator to allow visualization of results by a simple color change in 30 minutes or less. If this method can be optimized and compares favorably to the current RT-qPCR test, it will be a single-tube nucleic acid amplification method that offers a rapid, accurate, and cost-effective way to detect SARS-CoV-2, and it could be deployed anywhere.
To learn more about the project, we interviewed Ellen Jorgensen, Sarah Ware, and Chris Monaco by email:
Congratulations for being selected as a semi-finalist for the XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing challenge! What do you think about the challenge overall? What do you think about the rules and requirements and the judging criteria to determine the winners? Do you wish something was different?
Ellen Jorgensen: “We were a bit surprised at the way the actual organization of the competition has unfolded. Maybe it is because they had never dealt with a competition around a biological before, or maybe it was the short time frame that was necessitated by the urgency of the pandemic response. It’s been a bit chaotic but I think XPRIZE is doing the best they can under the circumstances. The main thing is I wish communication to participants had been a little better. For example, they extended the submission deadline by several hours right before the deadline and only announced it on their Slack channel. The result was a lot of folks who could have used the extra hours to present a better case for their project felt cheated. But they did their best to try and let folks update their entries, so it was not a major barrier for most competitors.”
Sarah Ware: “Honestly, I have not seen any judging rubrics. We know that the test should be inexpensive, rapid, sensitive and scalable. As semi-finalists, we will receive ~ 200 samples for validation in a blinded proficiency test. The results will be scored on “specificity, sensitivity, and limits of detection”. Up to 20 teams will advance to the finals round, which includes validation of clinical samples, and up to five of those teams will be declared winners.”
Chris Monaco: “This is an exciting opportunity for all of us and for community science. We are showing that passionate individuals can make meaningful impacts in the scientific community without having to belong to any one institution. The challenge itself has had some logistical hiccups, but the XPRIZE team seems to be figuring things out. To organize something this big in such a short amount of time must be a huge undertaking. More clarification in the judging criteria would be helpful but I’m sure things will work themselves out.”
Can you tell us a little about your project? What is the coolest thing about it? Who is helping you?
Ellen Jorgensen: “We think the coolest thing about our project is it provides maximum safety and convenience in sample collection, can be done with minimal equipment (only a heat source and pipettors) and training, and takes an hour from start to finish. As to who is helping us- well, everyone! The JOGL platform has been an amazing experience in how a like-minded community can solve problems together and inspire each other.”
Sarah Ware: “Ellen Jorgensen, Chris Monaco and I are registered as Team Open Science. Our One Hour Covid Test is safe, rapid, reliable, convenient, inexpensive and scalable. The entire test takes one hour from sample collection to results and requires only a set of pipettes and a sous vide precision cooker as equipment. Results can be read with the naked eye — pink if negative and yellow if positive. Sample collection is via a basic oral swab, which is not as invasive as the nasopharyngeal swab. As for who is helping us, it is the JOGL community, from our small global group working on diagnostic tests through the greater group as a whole. We have so far been mainly funded via mini-grants distributed through JOGL with funds received from AXA Research Fund.”
Chris Monaco: “I probably can’t say much more than what Ellen and Sarah have already said, but our project is really about making a diagnostic test that is easy and accessible to all who want it. The protocol is completely open, nothing is secret, and the materials and reagents can be purchased by pretty much anyone. And while some of our reagents are commercial products, we are continuing to work even beyond this competition to create a completely open solution. The coolest part of the process so far has been the collaboration with Ellen and Sarah as well as the rest of the JOGL community. I’m able to work with and collaborate with people from all around the world that I likely otherwise would not have the opportunity to work with. It’s rewarding and exciting.”
What kinds of challenges are you facing? Are you close to achieving your goals?
Ellen Jorgensen: “As a team with no access to a clinical site, our biggest hurdle has not been scientific but has been access to actual patient samples to validate our test. We are hoping that we make the next round at XPRIZE, which would take our test to clinical sites and validate it with real patient samples.”
Sarah Ware: “We are competing for this XPRIZE as three individuals volunteering our time to develop the One Hour Covid Test. Our team is committed to open-source sharing of our test protocol, and we have no plans to patent any part of our test or keep any information hidden — no secret sauces! Our team is one of four open-source teams that were formed on the Just One Giant Lab (JOGL) global collaborative platform and have now advanced to the semi-finals. We are competing against many other teams that represent commercial biotech companies, and some of these companies already have tests that have received FDA Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) and provisional patents. We are happy to report that our test seems to be performing at the same or better sensitivity compared to tests already approved by the FDA. Another challenge is that Chris is in Georgia, Ellen is in New York and I am in Illinois. The three of us met on JOGL and have never worked together in person. We decided early on to turn this challenge into an advantage. We figured if we could develop a test that can be reproduced across three labs in different parts of the country with different equipment and resources, then our test should be readily reproducible and accessible in other labs as well.”
Chris Monaco: “I think one of our biggest challenges, but also one of our strengths is that Sarah, Ellen, and I are spread out across the US. We have not had the opportunity to meet in person yet. However, having collaborators remotely working on the same problem and replicating results across a CDC lab, a private lab, and a home lab shows that our test is sound and truly universal.”
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Ellen Jorgensen: “It has been an enlightening experience to form collaborations through JOGL. I realized the other day that my team members have become my friends, and that will last a lifetime because we have gone through this journey together — and we have never met in person.”
Note: JOGL is developing a virtual laboratory where users can collaborate and innovate in order to solve problems that address the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). You can join us at https://jogl.io/