A low-cost method of testing coronavirus or COVID-19 developed by researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT), Delhi, has been approved by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). According to a press release from the institute, the COVID-19 detection assay was developed by a research team from IIT-Delhi’s Kusuma School of Biological Sciences (KSBS).
The institute claims “the assay was validated with a sensitivity and specificity of 100 per cent”. This makes IIT-Delhi the first academic institute to have obtained ICMR approval for a real-time PCR-based diagnostic assay.
The IIT-Delhi team claims to have identified unique regions (short stretches of RNA sequences) that occur in coronavirus patients using comparative sequence analyses. These regions, claim the researchers, are not present in other human coronaviruses, thus providing an opportunity to specifically detect COVID-19.
“This method uses primers targeting unique regions of COVID-19 that were designed and tested using real-time PCR. These primers specifically bind to regions conserved in over 400 fully sequenced COVID-19 genomes. This highly sensitive assay was developed by extensive optimisation using synthetic DNA constructs followed by in vitro generated RNA fragments,” the institute claims.
The team is targeting large-scale deployment of the kit at affordable prices with suitable industrial partners at the earliest. IIT had earlier said that developing kits locally could bring down the cost of the testing kits drastically. In a recent tweet, IIT-Delhi director V Ramgopal Rao said, “This is expected to bring down the cost of detection to below Rs 300 in the country”. The estimated cost of one test kits in the market is about Rs 4,500.
The team includes Prashant Pradhan, Ashutosh Pandey, and Praveen Tripathi – all three are pursuing their PhDs. Other team members are Dr Akhilesh Mishra, Dr Parul Gupta, Dr Sonam Dhamija, Prof Vivekanandan Perumal, Prof Manoj B Menon, Prof Bishwajit Kundu, Prof James Gomes.
So far, the number of infected cases in India has gone over 2000 and the death toll is near 700, as per the government data.
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