Medical Minutes by John Schieszer



Researchers in the United States have developed a new type of multiplexed test with a low-cost sensor that may enable the at-home diagnosis of a COVID-19 infection through rapid analysis of  small volumes of saliva or blood, without the involvement of a medical professional, in less than 10 minutes. One feature of the COVID-19 virus that makes it so difficult to contain is that it can be easily spread to others by a person who has yet to show any signs of infection. The carrier of the virus might feel perfectly well and go about their daily business.A crucial part of the global effort to stem the spread of the pandemic, therefore, is the development of tests that can rapidly identify infections in people who are not yet symptomatic. Now, Caltech researchers have developed a new at-home 10-minute test. Previously, they had developed wireless sensors that can monitor conditions such as gout, as well as stress levels, through the detection of extremely low levels of specific compounds in blood, saliva or sweat. “In as little as a few minutes, we can simultaneously check these levels, so we get a full picture about the infection, including early infection, immunity and severity,” said lead investigator Wei Gao, an assistant professor in the medical engineering department at Caltech in Pasadena (California).

Established COVID-testing technologies usually take hours or even days to produce results. Those technologies also require expensive, complicated equipment. Gao’s system is simple and compact. So far, the device has been tested only in the lab with a small number of blood and saliva samples obtained for medical research purposes from individuals who have tested positive or negative for COVID-19. Though preliminary results indicate that the sensor is highly accurate, larger-scale testing with realworld patients will now be required to determine its full accuracy.

Grab your walking shoes. Just taking a daily stroll may do much more than you ever realised, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Two studies published this year showed that older adults may be able to live longer, healthier lives by increasing physical activity that doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective.

The studies, which were presented at the American Heart Association’s Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle and Cardiometabolic Health Scientific Sessions 2020, showed that older adults were 67 per cent less likely to die of any cause if they spent at least 150 minutes per week doing moderate to vigorous physical activity compared to those who did not engage in more than 150 minutes per week of moderate to vigorous physical activity.

The new data also demonstrated that among the participants (average age 69) physical activity doesn’t have to be strenuous to be effective. The researchers observed that each 30-minute interval of light-intensity physical activities, such as doing household chores or casual walking, was associated with a 20 per cent lower risk of dying from any cause. Conversely, every additional 30 minutes of being sedentary was related to a 32 per cent higher risk of dying from any cause.

This investigation evaluated physical activity levels of 1,262 participants from the ongoing Framingham Offspring Study. Participants were an average age of 69 (54 per cent women), and they were instructed to wear a device that objectively measured physical activity for at least 10 hours a day, and for at least four days a week between 2011 and 2014.

Researchers found that women who walked 2,100 to 4,500 steps daily reduced their risk of dying from heart attacks, heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular diseases by up to 38 per cent compared with women who walked less than 2,100 daily steps. The women who walked more than 4,500 steps per day reduced their risk by 48 per cent. “Despite popular beliefs, there is little evidence that people need to aim for 10,000 steps daily to get cardiovascular benefits from walking,” said lead study author Andrea Z. LaCroix, who is the chief of epidemiology at the University of California in San Diego. “Our study showed that getting just over 4,500 steps per day is strongly associated with reduced risk of dying from cardiovascular disease in older women.”

John Schieszer is an award-winning national journalist and radio and podcast broadcaster of The Medical Minute. He can be reached at


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