VICTORIA -- Technology developed by University of Victoria (UVic) chemists in 2016 to fight the Zika virus is now being fast-tracked to be used as a testing kit for COVID-19.

The research team is developing the test by using nanotechnology to treat plastic strips that can detect the S-1 protein found in the novel coronavirus. If the virus is present, the strip will change in colour from red to blue.

"What we are trying to do is make a plastic strip that, when you expose it to saliva that contains COVID-19, [changes] colour," said UVic chemistry professor Alexandre Brolo.

"We see a lot of potential in terms of application, not just as a home test but also as screening in work-places and points of entry," added Brolo.

The wait for results from the current "swab test" method that B.C. uses may take as long as 24 hours in a laboratory. If the chemists are successful with developing this new test, results from the nanoparticle treated strips will be available in less than 15 minutes.

The UVic researchers will also be working with a technology partner to create a smart phone app to detect the presence of the virus by the colour of the test strip in real time.

"We have this methodology already for Zika," said UVic master’s student Ariadne Bido. "We just need to change some parameters and hopefully it will work."

Brolo and his research team are evaluating and testing technology to use with COVID-19 antibody samples supplied by ImmunoPrecise Antibodies Ltd, a Victoria-based antibody production company. The company specializes in custom antibody discovery and development.

"We are hitting the ground running here because we already have some base for the technology," said Brolo.

"It's a different disease, different chemistry, so we have to research and develop everything," he said. "So it's not going to be easy, but at least we have a starting point to go from."

Funding for the research project comes from the federal government's Natural Science and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) Alliance COVID-19 grant.

The grant fosters collaboration between academic researchers and commercial industries in order to find solutions to the challenges created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The university chemists hope to have an accurate test available for public use in 2021.

"We know how to do the chemistry, the proof of concept we can do by the end of the summer," said Brolo.