New rapid COVID-19 test with improved sensitivity developed

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Updated: Sep 18, 2020 12:02 PM

With further research, the scientists, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said the new test, known as STOPCovid, could be made cheaply enough so that people could test themselves every day.

COVID-19 test, rapid covid 19 test, novel coronavirus, STOPCovid, CRISPR technology, RNA, latest news on coronavirus pandemicThe scientists are currently testing it with saliva samples, which they said may make at-home tests even easier to perform. (Representational image: IE)

Researchers have developed a new rapid test for the detection of the novel coronavirus that can be performed in less than an hour, and with minimal equipment, and “can detect nearly as many cases as the standard COVID-19 diagnostic.”

With further research, the scientists, including those from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in the US, said the new test, known as STOPCovid, could be made cheaply enough so that people could test themselves every day.

In the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, the researchers showed that the new test detected 93 per cent of the positive cases as determined by conventionally used COVID-19 diagnostic. “We need rapid testing to become part of the fabric of this situation so that people can test themselves every day, which will slow down outbreak,” said study co-author Omar Abudayyeh from MIT.

The researchers hope the test could be further developed for use in point-of-care settings, such as doctors’ offices, pharmacies, nursing homes, and schools. While other tests based on CRISPR technology provide a method for the the detection of viral pathogens, the scientists said these are more complex than the ones used in point-of-care testing. They explained that such tests depend on an RNA extraction process and multiple liquid-handling steps that increase the risk of cross-contamination of samples.

“We developed STOPCovid so that everything could be done in a single step,” said Julia Joung, another co-author of the study from MIT. “A single step means the test can be potentially performed by nonexperts outside of laboratory settings,” Joung said.

In the latest version of STOPCovid, reported in the study, the researchers incorporated a process to concentrate the viral genetic material in a patient sample by adding magnetic beads that attract RNA. They said this step eliminates the need for expensive purification kits that are time-intensive and can be in short supply due to high demand.

According to the researchers, this concentration step boosts the test’s sensitivity so that it now approaches that of the conventionally used PCR diagnostic method. “Once we got the viral genomes onto the beads, we found that that could get us to very high levels of sensitivity,” said Jonathan Gootenberg, another co-author of the study.

The researchers tested STOPCovid on 402 patient samples — 202 positive and 200 negative — and found that it detected 93 percent of the positive cases as determined by the standard US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) PCR test. They said the STOPCovid test works on samples taken using the less invasive anterior nasal swab.

The scientists are currently testing it with saliva samples, which they said may make at-home tests even easier to perform. “The goal is to make this test easy to use and sensitive, so that we can tell whether or not someone is carrying the virus as early as possible,” said Feng Zhang, a co-author of the study from MIT.

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