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Quick Covid-19 test from IIT Kharagpur: How it works, why it matters

Dr Arindam Mondal, Assistant Professor, School of Bioscience, IIT-KGP, said the technology has been subjected to rigorous testing protocols as per ICMR guidelines.

Written by Anuradha Mascarenhas | Pune | October 22, 2020 8:29:30 am
COVIRAP, What is COVIRAP, COVIRAP test, IIT Kharagpur Covid test, Covid test COVIRAP, COVIRAP explained, Indian ExpressCOVIRAP is a new diagnostic test for Covid-19 from IIT Kharagpur. (Twitter/@IITKgp)

A new diagnostic test for Covid-19 from IIT Kharagpur, called COVIRAP, can be a potential game-changer in bringing high-end molecular diagnostics from the lab to the field. The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has validated the efficacy of the method, IIT-KGP said Wednesday.

How it works: It has an automated pre-programmable temperature control unit, a special detection unit on genomic analysis, and a customised smartphone app for results.

Three master mixes work as markers of different genes to confirm the presence of SARS-CoV-2, said Prof Suman Chakraborty, Dean, Sponsored Research and Industrial Consultancy, IIT Kharagpur. Samples collected react with these mixes. When paper strips are dipped into these reaction products, coloured lines indicate the presence of the virus.

Dr Arindam Mondal, Assistant Professor, School of Bioscience, IIT-KGP, said the technology has been subjected to rigorous testing protocols as per ICMR guidelines. 📣 Follow Express Explained on Telegram

Why it’s special: Current tests include RT-PCR, which are highly accurate but require advanced lab infrastructure, and antigen tests that can give results in minutes but have a lower accuracy.

Prof VK Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, said the COVIRAP process is completed within an hour. The test is conducted in a ultra-low-cost portable unit that can be handled by unskilled operators outside the lab environment and is an alternative to high-end RTPCR machines. It can test samples even on open fields. The same unit can be used for a large number of tests on replacement of the paper cartridge after each test.

The patented machine unit is also very generic, which means that it can perform tests beyond Covid-19 — for influenza, malaria, dengue, Japanese encephalitis, TB etc, under the category of isothermal nucleic acid-based tests.

COVIRAP & FELUDA: FELUDA, named after Satyajit Ray’s fictional detective as an acronym for FNCAS9 Editor-Limited Uniform Detection Assay, is a test developed by the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology. This too detects genes specific to SARS-CoV-2, but uses CRISPR-CAS technology.

With FELUDA, too, the need for technical expertise is minimal. While the current FELUDA prototype requires a PCR machine for processing, COVIRAP uses its own detection technology, patented by IIT-KGP. “There are certain components of the method which are exclusive for us and different from CRISPRCAS,” Prof Chakraborty said.

Why testing still matters: India has tested 9.72 crore samples until October 20, and been meeting the WHO-suggested threshold of 140 tests per million population per day. While new cases have been declining daily, experts have said the focus should remain on ensuring access to tests in places in areas where fewer than 140/million tests are done per day. The IIT-KGP director said “the Institute is open for tie-ups” with corporates or start-ups for technology licensing and commercial production.

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