From DNA analysis to the detection of Covid-19

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Nudgebox is the product of a small DNA testing company that a few months ago was trying to gain a foothold in genetics and is now part of an effort to make British hospitals safer during the pandemic.

The company, DnaNudge, won a 16 161 million ($ 211 million) order for 5,000 coronavirus patient screening machines at hundreds of National Health Service hospitals.

For founder Christofer Toumazou, a professor at Imperial College London, it’s the culmination of many months of trying to rebuild a machine the size of a toaster originally developed to analyze key pieces of human DNA so users can customize their diets with based on their heredity. His lab will now be used to monitor patients arriving at hospitals for surgery, cancer treatment and other procedures that can carry Covid-19.

His machine, the Nudgebox, gives results in 90 minutes and does not need to send samples to a laboratory. It can also identify the common flu and another lung disease known as respiratory syncytial virus.

The UK government also requested 450,000 tests from DNA testing company Oxford Nanopore Technologies. The innovative diagnosis is the latest example of British science being developed to fight the pandemic, along with the coronavirus vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca Plc.

Sensitive issue

Coronavirus testing has become a sensitive issue in the UK following the country’s early efforts to speed up the diagnosis. Thousands of tests ordered last spring proved flawed, preventing an increase in Covid-19 detection envisioned by Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s government. Britain has suffered more than 46,000 deaths, more than any other European country.

Graham Cook, professor of infectious diseases at Imperial College London, initially said he did not think the Toumazou device would be useful.

Nudgebox

Some of the Nudgeboxes have already been released to 8 hospitals and health centers in London, where doctors and nurses can use them to quickly determine if new patients should be isolated.

The moment of funding

As Toumazou watched the pandemic unfold and flood the resources of the health system, his greatest concerns were for his children.

So he went to his biggest investor, former Thai Prime Minister and mobile phone mogul Thaksin Sinawatra, who agreed to channel more money into the business.

Nudgebox has been able to move from human DNA analysis to the identification of SARS-CoV-2 virus genetic material.

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