India’s first paper-strip test for Covid-19, CSIR lab makes a breakthrough

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

Srishti Choudhary
Updated2 Apr 2020
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint
Photo: Priyanka Parashar/Mint

In a major breakthrough, a team of Indian scientists have successfully developed a low-cost, paper-strip test which can detect the new coronavirus within an hour and address India’s urgent need for rapid-testing.

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), CSIR’s premier laboratory in New Delhi.

The kit is similar to a portable paper-strip test used to confirm pregnancy and does not require any different specialized skill to perform and is relatively less-sophisticated.

“Unlike most rapid tests require dedicated machinery, this can be performed using standard equipments available in every pathological laboratory or even Mohalla Clinics in Delhi. This is important, because if 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 hope 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, 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 infections, rapid-testing would be the key strategy to ensure timely isolation of the positive cases to contain the virus from spreading fast. As on Thursday, the total number of positive cases has crossed 1,965 across the country. At least 12 more people have succumbed to the disease taking the total death toll to 50.

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