The scientists from the Nanyang Technological University, Singapore have successfully discovered a way which, on implementation, can improve the speed of obtaining COVID-19 test results to as low as 36 minutes, which is about four times less to the currently available test methods.
The current gold standard testing methods can take a few hours to yield test results and requires highly trained technical staff. The new testing method will now take the quarter of the testing time compared to the previous methods.On Monday, July 27, NTU said that the test can be conducted with the help of portable equipment and can be used as a screening tool.
The scientists at Lee Chian School of Medicine, NTU said that the new testing method would introduce a way to improve “the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests”, which was a drawback in case of the previously used hours-long testing methods.
The PCR or the polymerase chain reaction is a laboratory technique, which is reportedly the most sensitive method of testing available. The testing technique uses a machine to trace coronavirus by amplifying genetic material by copying it over and over again. But, the biggest problem is purifying traces of Ribonucleic Acid, or RNA from the other components in the patient’s sample because of the low availability of required chemicals.
The newly developed method released by NTU LKC Medicine makes use of the combination of steps from the old testing methods, which resulted in the cut down of testing time. The much-needed RNA purification chemicals are now not required with the introduction of the newly devised testing method, added the University.
Mr Wee Soon Keong, the author of the research paper published in the journal Genes, said,” The process is fiddly and time-consuming. Our rapid COVID-19 test involves a single-tube reaction that reduces hands-on time and biosafety risk for lab personnel, as well as the likelihood for carryover contamination during the processing of samples”. Even though PCR tests have been handy and can be called “a workhorse” for biological research, it has its drawbacks, he added.
The newly devised can also be used to test dengue by detecting other viruses and bacteria. Surprisingly, this year can bring Singapore’s worst dengue outbreak— the number of cases may surpass 22,170 cases in 2013.
Reportedly, the new method uses mucin to obstruct RNA amplification, which is an inhibitor-resistant enzyme. These commercially available enzymes and reagents have high resistance to compounds which inhibit PCR, resulting in the inaccuracy of test results.
The team is now deploying similar methods for routine diagnostics, stated Associate Professor Eric Yap, leader of the research team. “We need to determine the actual utility and benefits in a real-world setting and to understand if there are any trade-offs.When one bottleneck is removed, other challenges may emerge – like ensuring quality control or reducing manual errors.
“Our goal is to develop ultrafast and automated tests that yield results in minutes, and healthcare workers can perform that in the clinic with similar accuracy and sensitivity as in specialized laboratories. This will allow us to take PCR testing out of conventional laboratories nearer to the point-of-care, and into the low-resource settings that need them the most”, he added.