A tester holds printed instructions at a mobile testing location for COVID-19, Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2020, in Auburn, Maine. Credit: Robert F. Bukaty / AP

A new device from University of Florida researchers could offer highly accurate test results for COVID-19 in 30 seconds, dramatically improving convenience for activities such as large events or air travel.

Researchers say the tests are as accurate as polymerase chain reaction tests, commonly known as PCR tests, which can take 24 hours to a few days to process. The new tests can also be offered at a fraction of the cost, they say.

The device samples saliva using the same kind of inexpensive strip used for glucose testing, but with a different chemical agent. The strip then sends a signal to a transistor machine, which provides a result within 30 seconds. In studies with human samples, the researchers found a 90 percent accuracy rate — the same as PCR tests and higher than rapid tests, which take 10 to 15 minutes for results.

“The beauty of this thing is that the time is so short,” said Fan Ren, a UF chemical engineering professor who had been studying the device for other uses prior to the pandemic.

Researchers think the small machine, which is battery powered, can one day be used to detect levels of other potential health threats, such as cancer and heart attacks and significantly cut the costs of health care.

“The potential for the sensor is endless,” said Josephine Esquivel-Upshaw, a UF dental sciences professor and member of the research team. “It can revolutionize the way diseases are diagnosed.”

The UF faculty members are working with other researchers at National Yang Ming Chiao Tung University in Taiwan and have a licensing agreement with a New Jersey company, Houndstoothe Analytics, to produce the device. They are awaiting approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Divya Kumar, Tampa Bay Times