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In Communications medicine

Background : Lateral flow immunoassays (LFIAs) are being used worldwide for COVID-19 mass testing and antibody prevalence studies. Relatively simple to use and low cost, these tests can be self-administered at home, but rely on subjective interpretation of a test line by eye, risking false positives and false negatives. Here, we report on the development of ALFA (Automated Lateral Flow Analysis) to improve reported sensitivity and specificity.

Methods : Our computational pipeline uses machine learning, computer vision techniques and signal processing algorithms to analyse images of the Fortress LFIA SARS-CoV-2 antibody self-test, and subsequently classify results as invalid, IgG negative and IgG positive. A large image library of 595,339 participant-submitted test photographs was created as part of the REACT-2 community SARS-CoV-2 antibody prevalence study in England, UK. Alongside ALFA, we developed an analysis toolkit which could also detect device blood leakage issues.

Results : Automated analysis showed substantial agreement with human experts (Cohen's kappa 0.90-0.97) and performed consistently better than study participants, particularly for weak positive IgG results. Specificity (98.7-99.4%) and sensitivity (90.1-97.1%) were high compared with visual interpretation by human experts (ranges due to the varying prevalence of weak positive IgG tests in datasets).

Conclusions : Given the potential for LFIAs to be used at scale in the COVID-19 response (for both antibody and antigen testing), even a small improvement in the accuracy of the algorithms could impact the lives of millions of people by reducing the risk of false-positive and false-negative result read-outs by members of the public. Our findings support the use of machine learning-enabled automated reading of at-home antibody lateral flow tests as a tool for improved accuracy for population-level community surveillance.

Wong Nathan C K, Meshkinfamfard Sepehr, Turbé Valérian, Whitaker Matthew, Moshe Maya, Bardanzellu Alessia, Dai Tianhong, Pignatelli Eduardo, Barclay Wendy, Darzi Ara, Elliott Paul, Ward Helen, Tanaka Reiko J, Cooke Graham S, McKendry Rachel A, Atchison Christina J, Bharath Anil A


Databases, Public health