Meet ‘CoronaHunter’, a semi-finalist for the XPRIZE Rapid Covid Testing challenge

Marianna Limas
Published in
6 min readSep 17, 2020


A group of community scientists in Sri Lanka recently joined the OpenCovid19 initiative on Just One Giant Lab (JOGL), a platform where thousands of volunteers and experts from around the world collaborate to create solutions to better prevent, detect, and treat COVID-19.

The Corona Hunter project, led by Prabuddha Dissanayake, Madhavi Hewadikaram, Sanjaya Bathige, Aravinth Panch, and Kalindu Perera, is developing an open-source detection method for SARS CoV-2, adapted from ‘GMO Detective’, a low-cost and open community science project for detection of transgenic elements in food and plants, for both scientific and educational purposes.

The project has recently been selected as a semi-finalist in the XPRIZE Rapid COVID Testing challenge, along with the following projects on JOGL: One-hour Covid Test using LAMP, Do-It-Together SARS CoV-2 Detective (check out our interview with Rachel Aronoff here), and COVID-ALERT (Accessible LAMP-Enabled Rapid Test, check out our interview with Ali Bektas)! Congratulations to the teams!

To learn more about the project, we interviewed Aravinth Panch and Madhavi Hewadikaram 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, the judging criteria to determine the winners? Do you wish something was different?

The XPRIZE competition is a very timely initiative that has been motivating researchers around the globe in the fight against COVID-19, therefore we believe that it’s not just a competition but an opportunity for a global co-creation.

Along with the prize money, the scientific support provided by this program will be immensely helpful for research teams, especially in lower resource countries, to expedite the research and development to develop the test kits, thereby solving their local challenges on their own. The selection criteria cover every aspect of the complete testing cycle from sample collection to delivering the results, which has helped us to understand the gaps in our current practice. The action taken to send blind samples to evaluate our solution is greatly appreciated, as it will help us to validate our solution by an external party while making the selection process fair to all the teams involved.

As XPRIZE is also coming with a very attractive financial reward, many well established corporate entities with FDA approved test kits have entered the competition. Therefore, we also hope that the organizing committee will take fair considerations in comparing the solutions, like ours, from the low-resource countries, with the solutions of the resourceful corporations.

Can you tell us a little about your project? What is the coolest thing about it? Who is helping you?

SLINTEC CoronaHunter is a COVID-19 test kit that uses an openly available loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) protocol as an alternative to the costly and time-consuming RT-PCR method, which is currently being used in Sri Lanka and globally. We envision a test kit that can be used in high throughput laboratories to get a quantitative measurement: a new approach that is different from other commonly available low-cost LAMP solutions. Our unique solution is tailor-made to the specifications of Sri Lankan regulations, and also to build an innovation on top of the existing infrastructure without reinventing the wheel. We define a certain time period as a LAMP “cycle” that is allowing us to have this quantitative approach to an otherwise qualitative method.

Therefore with our innovative solution, we can identify positive and negative COVID 19 from samples extracted from nasopharyngeal, saliva, oropharyngeal, and throat swabs, and RNA is extracted from the sample using magnetic beads. Additionally, our solution can also differentiate between the samples, which are high-risk (low Ct value/high viral load) or low-risk (high Ct value/low viral load). Our careful trials with real patient samples have revealed that this method has a sensitivity threshold almost equivalent to the standard RT-qPCR.

Migrating from the current expensive and slower RT-PCR testing solution to our unique CoronaHunter solution will introduce a three-fold decrease in total kit cost and a potential four-fold increase in the total pipeline output. With our innovation, Sri Lanka is expected to save nearly 150 Million Rupees (700K Euros) every month.

However, our purest intention to make this solution available for Sri Lanka and the Global South is pushing us to further improve the solution by discarding the RNA extraction procedure and optimizing our reagents to use alternative open materials. This could potentially extend SLINTEC CoronaHunter as a point-of-care testing kit, which would make our solution accessible to the remotest places to support the most vulnerable people.

Aravinth Panch, an advisor to SLINTEC and co-founder of DreamSpace Academy Sri Lanka, has guided us in the right direction at the right moment to develop the test kit based on the open LAMP protocol and has been an integral part of the team since then. Furthermore, he invited us to participate in the OpenCOVID19 initiative of Just One Giant Lab, where our team has received immense support from Guy Aidelberg (CRI), Dr. Rachel Aronoff (Hackuarium), Dr. Ellen Jorgensen (Biotech Without Borders), Dr. Sarah Blossom Ware (BioBlaze), Kathrin Hadasch (University of Tübingen), Dr. Ali Bektas (Oakland Genomics Center), Dr. Scott Pownall (Open Science Network), Dr. Johanna Havemann (Access 2 Perspectives), Dr. Jenny Molloy (University of Cambridge) and many more.

Furthermore, Professor Neelika Malavige and her team at Sri Jayewardenepura University worked closely with SLINTEC, and provided us with both positive and negative clinical samples to demonstrate proof of concept and carry out the initial validation trials to compare with RT-PCR results.

All this wouldn’t be possible without our wonderful local team Dr. Sanjaya Bathige, Madhavi Hewadikaram, Kalindu Perera, Dr. Prabuddha Dissanayake, and wonderful colleagues at SLINTEC in Sri Lanka.

What kinds of challenges are you facing? Are you close to achieving your goals?

With the current setup of CoronaHunter, we face difficulties in adding internal control primers into the same test tubes as the viral targeting primers. Another crucial challenge that we are constantly trying to tackle is the sensitivity. We would like to detect even very low viral loads to provide a complete solution to the national testing system in Sri Lanka that would allow authorities to take preventative steps even in cases that are very low risk (= high Ct) because we truly believe that even if the risk is very low, it doesn’t mean there are no risks.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?

“All Great Changes Are Preceded By Chaos” — This pandemic taught us, humans, to leave all our differences behind and fight for the fundamental existence of this wonderful planet Earth. Initiatives such as OpenCOVID19 and XPRIZE have opened several doors with infinite possibilities, especially for the organizations and communities in the Global South. Such decentralized scientific cooperation has taught us to create local innovations for local problems with global support, therefore Open Science has truly established the international feeding grounds for the scientific hunger of the global community of scientists to make the world a better place.

Long Live Open Science !!!

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



Marianna Limas

I work at @JustOneGiantLab , an open research and innovation laboratory, and @SynBioBeta, a leading community in the synthetic biology field.