(Bloomberg) -- Nuclear scientists in Austria are closing in on new coronavirus testing kits that could dramatically lower the cost and time it takes to diagnose people for the disease.
With Covid-19 tests in short supply in many places, some individuals have turned to private laboratories that can genetically detect the pathogen. That process, called reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction, or RT-PCR, can cost as much as $400 in some private facilities.
But the International Atomic Energy Agency expects it can produce Covid-19 tests costing as little as 10 euros ($10.83) that yield a diagnosis within hours, according to an spokesperson, who said the IAEA kits are close to being shipped.
While the IAEA’s individual tests may top out at 15 euros a person, countries will still need laboratories to process the results. Setting up a new facility from scratch can cost as much as 100,000 euros, according to the agency.
The IAEA’s lab outside Vienna has previously developed kits testing for Ebola, Zika and African Swine Fever. Fourteen countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America asked the agency’s scientists earlier this month to help them ramp up testing. The effort drew an extra $5 million of funding on Tuesday from the U.S. State Department.
The work of IAEA scientists at labs in Siebersdorf, Austria goes beyond nuclear power. They use atomic techniques at the behest of members to improve healthcare, agricultural yields and combat pests. The RT-PCR tests they’ve developed use ionizing radiation to detect genetic changes caused by the virus, which can then be rendered in easy-to-read fingerprints to accelerate diagnosis.
“If you know what is out there ahead of time, you have time to proactively prepare, either by developing vaccines or increasing your capacity for diagnosis and detection,” said IAEA scientists Gerrit Viljoen earlier this month.
The ability to test Covid-19 is seen as a key variable in restricting its spread. Diagnosis has proliferated in some countries like Germany and South Korea, while lagging behind in others including Italy and parts of the U.S.
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