The testing devices are expected to be in healthcare organizations by the end of the year.
More than six months after the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a public health emergency of international concern, nearly 22 million people worldwide have been diagnosed with the virus and more than 777,000 people have died from it (as of Aug. 19).
The National Institutes of Health recently announced what it called an “unprecedented effort” to accelerate testing technology, pouring more than $1 billion into rapid tests and distributing them more widely so that people do not have to wait multiple days to find out if they have the virus.
Israeli start-up company Newsight Imaging, based in Ness Ziona, is part of that effort, collaborating with Sheba Medical Center at Tel-Hashomer to develop a test that detects the virus in what officials are describing as “less than a second.”
Their test is now in its pilot phase and company officials expect to have a test approved and available for distribution by the fall.
Newsight, a 3D sensor technology developer, is using a spectral sensor chip for virus detection in human saliva.
“The spectral sensor chip is actually a very sensitive camera that can detect, in very high accuracy, different wavelengths,” said Eli Assoolin, CEO of Newsight. “The basic idea is we use a light source with many wavelengths to light a liquid sample. The sample absorbs part of the light in specific wavelengths, and then we can capture with our sensor the returned light, which is a spectral signature.
“We have found that each virus we test creates a unique bodily response in human blood or saliva, and this is what we are detecting with our device.”
Members of Newsight are collaborating with Professor Eli Schwartz, director of the Center for Geographic Medicine at Sheba, and members of his staff.
The two organizations plan to establish a joint company to produce and distribute instant COVID-19 detection tests. That company will be located in Sheba’s ARC Innovation Center and is expected to launch soon.
“Once the company is established … we will start immediate, large-scale pilots around the globe and, in parallel, seek for a fast FDA approval for this important, life-saving device,” Assoolin said. The device would also have to be approved by the European Union before it could be used.
He expects the testing devices will be in healthcare organizations by the end of the year. The device would be a one-time purchase and each individual test would cost a health care organization less than $1 (in American funds) to process.
Assoolin mentioned that using spectrometer technology is a well-known scientific method in detecting viruses. His company took the concept of costly, non-portable lab tests and implemented them on a spectral sensor chip. The company has used the technology in partnership with Israel’s national water company Mekorot and for beverage testing.
Steve Walz, international spokesman for Sheba Medical Center, said the health organization has partnered with Intel to develop technology that can predict the deteriorating effects of COVID-19 on patients. The medical center is also collaborating with start-up organizations created by the Israeli Defense Force’s 8200 Unit, on research and development for re-engineered ventilators and protective gear.
Additionally, Sheba is working with hospital organizations in the United States, including Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, on COVID-19-related technology and research.
“Sheba’s renowned expertise has allowed the hospital to work closely with the National Institutes of Health in Maryland on COVID-19 research, which is playing a role in the development of a vaccine to thwart this horrible disease,” Walz said.