Rapid Covid test to be trialled at Merton and St Hilda’s Colleges

St Hilda’s and Merton students are being asked to voluntarily participate in a six-month rapid testing study, designed to see whether this type of weekly screening for COVID-19 is feasible. The trial also seeks to determine the accuracy of a new, rapid test, known as a Lateral Flow Test (LFT) that gives results in 20-30 minutes. 

In a press release, Oxford-based clinical AI company Sensyne Health announced that it had partnered with Oxford University to deliver its ‘Feasibility and Acceptability of community COVID-19 rapid Testing Strategies’, also known as FACTS. This study of approximately 1,000 students over six months, will evaluate whether it is feasible to test students weekly in order to stop the spread of the disease and will test the new point-of-care tests. 

The release stated that “The Sensyne CVmHealth+ app will be used to provide access to study information and links to training materials, record health status and test result data for students and staff, and to capture a time-stamped photograph of the POCT result every time an individual performs a test, to provide independent classification.” 

The LFT produces results within a few minutes. Individuals swab their nose and throat to collect a sample and then insert it into a tube of liquid for a short time. LFTs have already been validated and undergone clinical testing. If LFTs are able to detect enough people with the virus before they get symptoms, they could help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Professor Richard Hobbs, Head of the Nuffield Department of Primary Care Health Sciences at the University of Oxford, said: “I believe that a simple widely available software solution is essential to support point-of-care testing and record the results accurately and securely. Sensyne Health have done a great job of adapting their CVm-Health app for the FACTS study. It is a key component in our evaluation of rapid self-testing for COVID-19.”

He added that “the primary purpose of the study is not whether the University adopts this test, but to help uncover how to organise such screening in the national and international fight against COVID-19.”

Students at St Hilda’s and Merton will be asked to volunteer for the scheme. Students at a University Department are also being asked to participate. Tests are administered by the participant in the form of a nasal swab, and results are given within 20-30 minutes. The tests are believed to detect COVID-19 in asymptomatic patients. Participants that test positive during the scheme will be told to self-isolate with their households, and to book a confirmatory RT-PCR (reference test polymerase chain reaction) test in accordance with current public health guidance, which can be done through the NHS or the University’s Testing for COVID-19: Early Alert Service (EAS).

In an email sent to students at St Hilda’s, Principal Professor Sir Gordon Duff asked students to come forward for the trial. 

“We need no reminding that the Covid-19 pandemic remains a major challenge. 

“Oxford University has been at the forefront of global efforts to develop biomedical countermeasures including a protective vaccine, anti-viral drugs and repurposing or creation of medicines for the clinical illnesses of Covid.

“A self-administered, rapid test for the virus in pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals would have great value to both public and individual health. Any such test would have to be easy to use, safe, reliable and relatively inexpensive for repeat testing across the population

“Such tests need to be validated for the feasibility of use in the general population. The UK Government, within ‘Operation Moonshot’ is undertaking such feasibility field trials and has invited two universities, Oxford and Durham to participate in pilot studies.  The University of Oxford has selected two colleges to lead in those studies, St Hilda’s and Merton.”

“We believe this project will be an important contribution to national and international efforts to defeat the current pandemic and its wider consequences. The learnings will also be important in preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics.  We are pleased that St Hilda’s has been chosen to pilot the validation of rapid, self-administered testing for coronavirus SARS-2.” 

Students were reassured in an email from Professor Richard Hobbs that consent would be required before their rapid test results were shared with the Early Alert Service, and that they would be able to withdraw from the trial at will. Students in households that are already self-isolating are not eligible to volunteer for the study. 

Professor Louise Richardson, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford said: ‘We have all looked on with pride as our medics have worked tirelessly to develop a vaccine, discover therapeutics and assume a leading role in the global effort against COVID-19. I am very pleased that this new FACTS research pilot will provide an opportunity for a much larger segment of our community to participate in advancing knowledge of this virus and effective means of countering it.’

Students at Durham University have also been invited to participate in the trial.

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