Thais develop rapid test kits, nano-masks for COVID-19

With support from MIT and Harvard, a Thai research institute has developed an affordable coronavirus rapid test kit that delivers results in under an hour. Meanwhile, Thailand’s top medical school has created washable surgical masks for doctors and healthcare workers using nanotechnology.

A research team led by VISTEC (Vidyasirimedhi Institute of Science and Technology) developed the rapid test kits. They can deliver results in 30 to 45 minutes, as opposed to the six hours for existing tests, according to Chayasith Uttamapinant, a lecturer at VISTEC’s Faculty of Biomolecular Science and Engineering.

The kits cost less than $15 to produce. Private hospitals have been charging $100 to $250 for coronavirus testing. That price puts it out of reach for some people. Once clinical trials are complete, VISTEC believes it can produce 4,000 kits per day.

Widespread testing is a crucial tool in fighting the pandemic. Mass testing provides clues and evidence as to where the virus is spreading and how rapidly, and that information is used by public health officials to target the response.

Both Thai and U.S. institutions and businesses have been supporting VISTEC’s test-kit project. The backers include the Broad Institute in Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, the Public Health Ministry’s Department of Medical Sciences, Mahidol University’s Faculty of Science, Prapokklao Chanthaburi Hospital, PTT Plc, and Siam Commercial Bank.

VISTEC is a tuition-free graduate school for the best and brightest science and technology students in Thailand. PTT, the state energy conglomerate, is the chief funder of the school, and other Thai private sector companies also support it.

Meanwhile, researchers led by the Faculty of Medicine, Siriraj Hospital at Mahidol University, have made 7,000 masks for doctors and healthcare professionals that they can wash and reuse. The researchers used nanotechnology to make the masks.

Extremely high demand for masks among the general public has created a shortage in supply, and that leaves doctors and healthcare workers at risk.

The nano-masks resulted from a collaboration among the Higher Education Ministry, the Thailand Institute of Scientific and Technological Research, the Thailand Centre of Excellence for Life Sciences and partner agencies such as the Rajamangala University of Technology Lanna and the National Institute of Nuclear Technology with the support of the National Research Council of Thailand.

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