Researchers at the University of Oulu to receive EU funding for the development of a quick and affordable coronavirus test

The Council of Oulu Region has granted €172,000 funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) to a project led by Professor Simo Saarakkala for the development of a new diagnostic coronavirus test. The new test is based on infrared spectroscopy and its development makes use of artificial intelligence. Once finished, the test may significantly increase the testing capacity associated with coronavirus infection from the current one.

Over the past four years, infrared spectroscopy has proven to be a promising method for detecting different infections in human tissue and fluid samples. The method has been used in the past to identify hepatitis B and C viruses, dengue virus and malaria parasites in the blood, among others. In Great Britain, infrared spectroscopy has already been applied to COVID-19 diagnostics by measuring the infrared spectrum directly from the respiratory sample.

The advantages of using an infrared spectroscopy-based test include ease of use and affordability. “The measurement can be made from respiratory secretion in a few minutes, no sample processing is required and the test result can be obtained immediately after the measurement,” says Saarakkala.

The absorption of infrared radiation in the sample depends on the molecular composition of the sample. The result of the measurement is an infrared absorption spectrum from which advanced AI methods can be used to learn to identify a ‘fingerprint’ typical of a specific virus infection.

“If we succeed in optimising AI algorithms for COVID-19 infection, we can easily apply them to other viral infections in the future," Saarakkala says.  

At the moment, the majority of COVID-19 tests are based on a polymerase chain reaction, i.e. the PCR method, which is relatively slow and has limited capacity.  

According to Saarakkala, it is of the utmost importance that sensitive and accurate testing methods be available to detect acute-stage coronavirus infection and to give the result immediately, without hours or even days of waiting. If the infrared spectroscopy method to be developed is proven to be effective, the testing capacity can increase significantly and, at the same time, the tracing of infections can be improved.

The research project is carried out in cooperation with the Northern Finland Laboratory Centre NordLab. The project will also explore business opportunities related to the provision of the test. The total budget for the project is over €200,000. Lassi Rieppo serves as a project manager of the project.

Infrared spectroscopy equipment used for coronavirus testing (photo by Simo Saarakkala)

Main photo: Professor Simo Saarakkala (photo by Mikko Törmänen)


Last updated: 12.6.2020