IIT-Delhi Team Develops Cheap COVID-19 Test

Researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology here have developed a method to detect COVID-19 which can significantly reduce the test cost, making it affordable for large sections. The National Institute of Virology, Pune, is in the process of validating this test on clinical samples. The “probe-free detection assay” has been optimised and tested for sensitivity at the research laboratories of IIT. According to the team, considering the scale of the ongoing pandemic, development of indigenous kits is the need of the hour. The central government recommended that the maximum charge for a COVID-19 test by private laboratories should not exceed ₹4,500. All private laboratories which have NABL (National Accreditation Board for Testing and Calibration Laboratories) accreditation for real-time PCR (polymerase chain reaction) assay for RNA virus will be allowed to conduct COVID-19 tests, according to the guidelines issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) for COVID-19 testing in private laboratories, which were notified by the Health Ministry. However, the team at IIT claimed that their test can be performed at a much cheaper cost. “Using comparative sequence analysis, we have identified unique regions in COVID-19. These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19,” said Professor Vivekanandan Perumal, lead member of the team. “Once the NIV validates the assay, it can be quickly scaled up to meet the increasing need in our country,” he added. According to Professor Manoj Menon, the current testing methods available are “probe-based”, while the one developed by his team is “probe-free”, which reduces the testing cost without compromising on accuracy. “Primer sets targeting unique regions in the spike protein of COVID-19 were designed and tested using real time polymerase chain reaction. The primers designed by the group specifically bind to regions conserved in over 200 fully sequenced COVID-19 genomes. The sensitivity of this in-house assay is comparable to that of commercially available kits,” said Parul Gupta and Prashant Pradhan, members of the team. “This assay can be used as a qualitative (yes or no) assay without the need for extensive instrumentation. In addition, it can also quantitatively assess virus loads. We propose the use of this assay for specific and affordable high throughput screening of COVID 19,” they added. The research team also includes Ashutosh Pandey, Praveen Tripathi, Akhilesh Mishra, James Gomes and Bishwajit Kundu.

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