Lateral flow test beyond COVID-19
Before 2020, the words “lateral flow” didn’t mean much to anyone outside of the scientific community. When talking to people unfamiliar with lateral flow, those working with the tech should often use the home pregnancy test example as a shortcut. Now, thanks to COVID-19, lateral flow is no longer an unknown – as we can see on google trends, the term entered the public consciousness. This is because rapid lateral flow tests are used by governments and health authorities around the world to screen large numbers of people who do not show symptoms of COVID-19.
In the UK, the government said regular rapid tests using lateral flow tests would be “fundamental” helping to prevent future epidemics. England has had a mass testing system in place since March, and now people are being encouraged to take two tests per week to help keep COVID-19 infection rates low.
It is positive that governments and health agencies are seeing regular lateral flow testing as a way out of this pandemic and back to normal. But more than that, it’s also a vital part of resuming our health systems – a way to help alleviate some of the enormous burdens COVID-19 has placed on hospitals and those who work there. Likewise, schools, colleges, universities, and nursing homes use lateral flow to safely reopen.
What about the future? Where does the technology go from here?
COVID-19[female[femininewill not be the last pandemic we see in our life, so the lateral flow should be seen as the common method of rapid screening for a wide range of large-scale infectious diseases, such as HIV, Ebola, malaria, Zika virus and influenza variants.
But apart from infectious diseases, lateral flow can also bring affordable diagnostics to large numbers of people, opening up and democratizing healthcare around the world. Now the benefits are more widely known – affordability, portability, accuracy and speed – there is a huge opportunity for test developers and manufacturers to really push for wider adoption of the technology.
Why not give people access to a range of quick, affordable, and accurate tests they can do at home so they can screen themselves for a variety of health issues? By doing this, we can reduce the number of people who become patients, further reducing the burden on health systems.
Lateral flow has the potential to be a part of everyday life. In addition to home pregnancy and fertility tests, people can test themselves for sexually transmitted diseases, vitamin D deficiency, food allergens, high cholesterol, or cardiac markers that could indicate heart disease. Every home test saves public money and allows people to monitor their own health and well-being. And it’s not just human health that lateral flow can impact. The technology is already widely used to detect disease in animals – domestic and livestock – in the area of food safety – to test for pathogens and food-borne contaminants – and in environmental testing – soil, water and air.
However, there is still a reputation issue to overcome.
Of course, many people are still unsure of the benefits of lateral flow. For the technology to reach its full potential, this will need to be addressed. Negative reports of how lateral flow was used in the pandemic haven’t helped.
When mass testing for COVID-19 was introduced in Liverpool, England last year, researchers carried out a study by comparing it to the “gold standard” PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Of the 5,869 people who took both a lateral flow test and a PCR test, 70 were positive on the PCR test, but of those 70, only 28 were positive on the lateral flow test – 40%.
This led to criticism of the program and negative headlines on Lateral Flow – ignoring the fact that the program lowers the number of cases. But this study largely misses the point: rapid mass screening is the best solution to quickly screen large numbers of asymptomatic people. Context is essential. Lateral flow is the only viable option when large-scale monitoring, rapid response, and results with rapid data are required.
Digitization is a solution to improve lateral flow capabilities
Introducing digital connectivity and data collection is a win-win solution – it can add tremendous value to lateral flow testing and help overcome the perception that the technology is old and basic. When the tests are scanned, the results and additional data collected by a user-friendly mobile app, sent to the cloud, and securely stored for future analysis, they become extremely powerful in providing a complete picture of the situation. Without the data, we are stealing blind.
Globally, such a system can be used by governments to monitor infectious diseases and identify epidemic hot spots, allowing medical interventions to be targeted with greater precision. But it would also be of great value to many organizations and businesses, allowing them to reopen and continue to operate safely. For example, airlines or cruise ships could test passengers before boarding, ensuring a safer journey. The data collected makes testing even more valuable, giving a comprehensive profile of each individual tested – their age, gender, underlying conditions and symptoms all gathered at the time of testing – as well as a global monitoring of millions of results. of tests.
The diagnostics industry must react positively
So the lateral flow is here to stay. It has passed the home pregnancy test stage in the public eye and has truly proven its worth in the pandemic. As an industry, we need to seize this opportunity and keep lateral flow at the forefront. We must redouble our efforts to make it an efficient and affordable diagnostic solution. And we need to keep innovating, finding new uses for lateral flow and combining it with the latest technologies to make it even more valuable.
About the Author:
Phil Groom is Commercial Director of Digital Health Bond, a global medical technology company that develops application and cloud technology solutions for lateral flow diagnostics.