Old Computer Hard Drives Upcycled to COVID Tests

River D'Almeida, Ph.D
2 min readFeb 1, 2022

The kit costs $51 to make

Photo by benjamin lehman on Unsplash

Article via LabRoots

Have you heard about the COVID test vending machines? These ‘self-serve’ testing protocols are part of efforts to control the tsunami of infections that have taken over communities across the world associated with the rise of Omicron.

However, when it comes to regaining control over the coronavirus, some countries are well ahead of others. Remote or resource-poor regions, for instance, don’t have the same levels of access to the rapid tests, diagnostic laboratory facilities, or trained personnel needed to process COVID-19 test samples.

Researchers recently reported on an innovative solution for this challenge: a simple, low-cost ‘lab-in-a-backpack.’ The compact, portable technology does away with the need for expensive laboratory equipment and costs just $51 to assemble. Most promisingly, the developers of the test say that it’s as accurate as currently-available diagnostics on the market, making it a feasible alternative for when these commercial kits aren’t available.

The test is non-invasive and can detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in saliva samples.

The pandemic has exposed massive inequalities in access to clinical measures to control the spread of COVID-19 (such as vaccines, drugs, and diagnostics) between resource-rich and resource-poor countries. For example, one study highlights that when the US had performed close to 4 million COVID tests, Nigeria (a country of over 206 million people) had done only around 7000 tests. These stark differences in numbers are a result of insufficient available kits — with so few to go around, Nigeria’s health authorities were heavily restricting their use.

To counter the cost problem, the developers of the new diagnostic kit focused on using low-cost materials, including a centrifuge made out of recycled computer hard drives. The test is powered by 12-volt rechargeable Li-ion batteries (or wired directly to car batteries).

“Reuse is a high-value option for energy and materials sustainability, and we are glad that rather than exporting electronics waste to developing countries, we can export ways to empower people and turn waste computer hard drives into a centrifuge,” commented the lead author on the study, Stoyan Smoukov.

Smoukov also added that their so-called “CentriDrive” kit could also be applied to performing other diagnostic applications, including routine blood and urine tests.

The authors suggest that combining open access science with easily available, low-cost hardware is a small step towards minimizing the global inequalities around health care access.

Article originally featured on www.labroots.com

River D'Almeida, Ph.D

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