Now in lab, a DIY Covid test-kit

T V Jayan New Delhi | Updated on September 18, 2020 Published on September 18, 2020

MIT lead researchers say STOPCovid can give accurate results within an hour

Finally, a do-it-yourself (DIY) test for Covid-19 may be in the making. Researchers from many institutions in the US, including the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), have come together to develop a diagnostic kit that, at least in principle, makes it possible for people test themselves for Covid-19 infection possibly every day.

Participating in a webinar organised by BusinessLine early this month, Vice  Chairperson of the diversified Piramal Group, Swati Piramal, said the game changer in the fight against Covid-19 would be a rapid and cheap test that makes it possible for people to test whether they are infected, every day.

The test that the American scientists have developed, and named STOPCovid, could be a significant step in this direction. In a study appearing in The New England Journal of Medicine, researchers led by Omar Abudayyeh and Jonathan Gootenberg, two MIT McGovern Fellows, and Feng Zhang, a core member of Broad Institute, claimed that the diagnostic test that they have developed using the gene editing technology called CRISPR can produce results in 30 minutes to an hour, with similar accuracy of the standard RT-PCR diagnostics currently in use.

“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 Abudayyeh in a statement.

The MIT and Broad Institute researchers, who also collaborated with their counterparts at the University of Washington, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, Brigham and Women's Hospital, and the Ragon Institute, tested the diagnostic on 400-odd patient samples and proved that it could detect 93 per cent of the positive cases.

Though still in research stage, the scientists hoped that in near future this test could be used in point-of-care settings such as clinics, nursing homes and even in schools.

Portable Covid-19 test that gives results in 30 minutes

Zhang’s team began collaborating with Abudayyeh and Gootenberg to work on the Covid-19 diagnostic soon after the SARS-CoV-2 outbreak. They focused on making an assay, called STOPCovid, that was simple to carry out and did not require any specialised laboratory equipment.

“We developed STOPCovid so that everything could be done in a single step,” said Julia Joung, a biological engineering graduate student of Zhang who, along with another Zhang graduate student Alim Ladha, was the first author of the paper. “A single step means the test can be potentially performed by non-experts outside of laboratory settings,” she said.

Britain rolls out 90-minute swab test to detect Covid-19

High sensitivity levels

In the new version of STOPCovid reported on Thursday, the researchers incorporated a process to concentrate the viral genetic material in a patient sample by adding magnetic beads that attract RNA, eliminating the need for expensive purification kits that are time-consuming and can be in short supply due to high demand. This concentration step boosted the test’s sensitivity so that it now approaches that of PCR.

“Once we got the viral genomes onto the beads, we found that that could get us to very high levels of sensitivity,” Gootenberg says. The researchers claimed a sensitivity of 98 per cent, which is among the best so far.

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Published on September 18, 2020
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