By S VENKAT NARAYAN
The test uses the cutting-edge gene-editing tool- Crispr-Cas9 to target and identify the genomic sequences of the novel coronavirus in the samples of suspected individuals.
“We have been working on this tool for around two years. But, in late January, when the outbreak hit its peak in China, we began testing it to see if it can work for Covid-19. It took us around two months to come up with these results," said Dr Debjyoti Chakraborty, from the Institute of Genomic and Integrative Biology (IGIB), the premier laboratory of the government-owned Council of Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) in New Delhi.
The kit is similar to a portable paper-strip test used to confirm pregnancy, does not require any different specialized skill to perform, and is relatively less-sophisticated.
“Unlike most rapid tests that require dedicated machinery, this can be performed using standard equipment available in every pathological laboratory, or even Mohalla Clinics in Delhi. This is important, because if the number of infections shoot up drastically, we would need tests which can be done in local facilities. We will have to bring the tests closer to the patients to reduce transmission and this is what it does," said Dr Anurag Aggarwal, Director, CSIR-IGIB.
The team led by Dr Souvik Maiti and Dr Debjyoti Chakraborty is currently testing the kit in a patient cohort for its accuracy and sensitivity, and hopes to seek validation from a regulatory body of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) within a week.
Unlike the real time PCR test currently being used for diagnosis of Covid-19 in India, costing about ₹4500 or LKR 11,250 ($59), the paper-strip test costs less than ₹500. It also does not depend on expensive real-time PCR machines for RNA isolation, DNA conversion and amplification, which are already in limited supply.
While scientists in other countries, including Stanford University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have been testing this approach, it is the first such indigenous testing kit based on CRISPR technology to be developed in India.
As India heads for the exponential rise in the number of coronavirus infections, rapid-testing will be the key strategy to ensure timely isolation of the positive cases to contain the virus from spreading fast. As on Friday, the total number of positive cases has crossed 2,547 across the country with 478 new cases detected in the past 24 hours. The total death toll stood at 62.