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Israel is testing technology for instant detection of coronavirus

Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer is piloting a coronavirus-testing technology that is believed to be able to detect viruses in a fluid sample in less than a second. Newsight Imaging, a Ness Ziona-based start-up firm, on Tuesday told The Jerusalem Post it has received Sheba Medical Center’s IRB Ethics (“Helsinki”) Committee approval to conduct a pilot program for rapid COVID-19 detection tests using its portable and cost-effective spectral device.

“Newsight is yet another outstanding example of how ARC@Sheba Medical Center and the Israeli start-up ecosystem are working in tandem to reinvent existing technology to battle the scourge of COVID-19,” said ARC Innovation Center at Sheba chief Dr. Eyal Zimlichman.The device, which is about the size of a computer mouse, can identify and classify evidence of a virus in the body in less than a second, using a sample of fluid – blood serum or saliva – inserted into a disposable test cuvette, a release explained.In spectroscopy, a sample is tested with a broadband light source, Newsight CEO Eli Assoolin said.

The light that returns from the sample is analyzed to determine its wavelength content.“We collect the spectral signature after the light is absorbed in the sample, and then we can analyze the content of it,” he said, noting that spectral-analysis technology has already been used to identify certain human diseases and abnormalities.“Basically, on one side, you have the source of light, and on the other side, you have the sensor chip – a sensitive and fast camera that can see different wavelengths.

In the middle, you put the sample,” Assoolin said.Sheba doctors in the Infectious and Tropical Diseases Department are already working with the company, and initial feasibility studies of the device have been successful.One study found that it can separate between alpha-coronaviruses (Alpha-CoV) and beta-coronaviruses (Beta-CoV) at almost 100% accuracy. Studies conducted on people infected with Dengue virus were also found to be extremely accurate.

“We proved that we can differentiate between people who are sick and those who are not,” Assoolin said.Now, Sheba and Newsight are starting to test COVID-19.Newsight has been around for four years. Its machine-vision products are already integrated in dozens of different devices and solutions in the automotive, robotics and advanced industrial-manufacturing fields. Although hyperspectral cameras are widely used in hospitals, they have found a limited market due to their high cost, which generally ranges from $50,000 to well over $1 million.

Newsight’s innovation is that it has taken this technology and implemented it in a single, cost-effective silicon chip that can be used at any point of care – even people’s homes, Assoolin said. Moreover, the chip is “artificial-intelligence ready,” meaning, the data set generated by the chip can be used to train two models – one that identifies infected people and one that identifies people without the virus.

Then, Assoolin said, “if you take an anonymous sample, the algorithm will determine which model is a better fit.”Newsight and ARC@Sheba plan to establish a joint incubator company and then pursue approval by the US Food and Drug Association.“We will get FDA approval and commercialize as fast as possible,” Assoolin told the Post. But, he added, he imagines many on the market will be willing to test the solution even before that happens.

The company has already sold a license to develop virus- and bacteria-detection devices based on its technology to an artificial-intelligence company in Hong Kong.“We are really excited that we are doing something like this – not just from a business standpoint, but because we feel we are doing something for humanity,” Assoolin said.

Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman