Kiwi-developed technology - using "synthetic paint" to coat the outside of our red blood cells - could offer a low-cost way to test for Covid-19 immunity.
The test, carried out in a just-published, Government-funded study, uses a clever platform pioneered by the Auckland University of Technology team of engineering professor Steve Henry.
Called Kode, the tech was already well developed to screen for several infectious diseases when the Covid-19 pandemic emerged, so could be easily adapted to the coronavirus.
At the core of Kode were specially-developed molecules that could attach themselves to any surface within a few minutes - and modify any type of cell or virus.
Its potential applications range from cancer immunotherapy, to creating "invisible inks" for anti-counterfeiting of pharmaceuticals.
Against Covid-19, its promise lay in telling us whether a patient had immunity to the SARS-CoV-2 virus behind the disease.
It did this by targeting biological surfaces - or biosurfaces - which are the outside layer on anything alive.
Used by cells, viruses and bugs to communicate with each other and their environment, these biosurfaces were also what the body recognised to fight infections - and what infections used to recognise us.
Henry explained that every virus came with signature "shapes" on their biosurface - much like our own ears and noses are our family signature shapes.
"What we did was identify some key virus signature shapes, create synthetic versions of them, and using Kode Technology attach them onto the outside of blood cells," he said.
"By analogy, if you attached human ears and noses on to the outside of beach ball, you could say that the beach ball had some feature that were human, and what family they came from".
"But, instead of beach balls, we used blood cells, and instead of ears and noses, we used signature shapes copied from the virus.
"In other words, we changed blood cells so they looked in part like they were the virus."
This meant that, when a person's blood sample was tested, someone immune to the virus would have antibodies that reacted with the red cells painted to look like the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Henry said these modified cells aren't used to treat patients, but instead acted as reagents in laboratory machines.
"When these modified reagent blood cells are used in blood testing machines they will react with a patient's blood if they have antibodies against the Covid-19 virus," he said.
"The power of the technology sits in the fact that looking for antibodies against blood cells is routine practice in blood transfusion laboratories - and so by making a modified blood cells which look like a virus, they now can also look for antibodies to the virus."
Henry said the first prototype version of the Covid-19 assay was currently undergoing clinical evaluation at the US National Institutes of Health Clinical Centre, while commercial product development was under way at Immulab in Australia.
To ensure countries could access the test, Henry said Kode Biotech wouldn't enforce its intellectual property rights against diagnostic platform developers, provided they sourced Kode constructs from authorised suppliers.
Meanwhile, he said Kode was being clinically assessed as a form of cancer immunotherapy.
"In this setting, the Kode shape paint is based on 3D structures normally present on animal tissue - and when your tumour is painted, your body is tricked into thinking it has been invaded by animal tissue," he said.
"As your body is already immunised to animal tissue, it mounts a rapid attack on the 'painted tumour'.
"This aggressive immune attack is designed to stimulate and heat up your immune system to recognise your cancer's unique signatures, and then later mount an immune response to destroy your cancer."
This technology is currently undergoing a phase 2 clinical trial with technology licensee BiolineRx.