New Delhi: Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) have developed a paper-based test that can detect within half an hour if a person has coronavirus.
The diagnostic technology developed by an MIT start-up named E25Bio has not been tested on patient samples yet.
The researchers, an MIT statement said, will now submit the test to the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for “emergency use authorisation”, which is a temporary approval to use the test for public health emergencies.
The technology behind the test was developed by Lee Gehrke, a professor at the MIT, along with other members of his lab.
As COVID-19 cases continue to emerge from around the world, medical experts have felt the need for fast diagnostic tests.
As of today, 110 people in India have been diagnosed with the coronavirus.
We are deeply grateful to our readers & viewers for their time, trust and subscriptions.
Quality journalism is expensive and needs readers to pay for it. Your support will define our work and ThePrint’s future.
As of 15 March, health ministry officials told ThePrint, 49,461 people with recent travel histories are being monitored, while as many as 5,649 samples have been collected for lab tests.
All these are being done under the government’s Integrated Disease Surveillance Programme.
How the new test works
For the past several years, the researchers at MIT, who developed the paper-based test, have been working on diagnostic devices that work similar to a pregnancy test but can identify viral proteins from patient samples.
To create the paper-based coronavirus test, they have used a technology called the ‘lateral flow technology’. The same technology had been used by the researchers to develop tests for Ebola, dengue fever and Zika virus, among other infectious diseases.
“Our hope is that, similar to other tests that we’ve developed, this will be usable on the day that symptoms develop. We don’t have to wait for antibodies to the virus to come up,” Gehrke said in a statement.
Paper tests can be easily and inexpensively manufactured in large quantities, he added.
The tests are conducted using strips of paper that are coated with antibodies that bind to a specific viral protein. A second antibody is attached to gold nano-particles and the patient’s sample is added to a solution of those particles.
The test strip is then dipped in this solution. If the viral protein is present, it attaches to the antibodies on the paper strip as well as the nano-particle-bound antibodies, and a coloured spot appears on the strip within 20 minutes.
The start-up now needs the US FDA’s emergency authorisation to start using the test on patient samples.
“If those are successful, then the next step would be to talk about using it for actual clinical diagnosis,” Gehrke said.
Currently, there are two primary types of COVID-19 tests.
One test screens a patient’s blood samples for antibodies against the virus. However, antibodies are often not detectable until a few days after symptoms begin.
The second test looks for viral DNA in mouth or nasal swabs. While these can detect the virus earlier, they take several hours to perform.
News media is in a crisis & only you can fix it
You are reading this because you value good, intelligent and objective journalism. We thank you for your time and your trust.
You also know that the news media is facing an unprecedented crisis. It is likely that you are also hearing of the brutal layoffs and pay-cuts hitting the industry. There are many reasons why the media’s economics is broken. But a big one is that good people are not yet paying enough for good journalism.
We have a newsroom filled with talented young reporters. We also have the country’s most robust editing and fact-checking team, finest news photographers and video professionals. We are building India’s most ambitious and energetic news platform. And we aren’t even three yet.
At ThePrint, we invest in quality journalists. We pay them fairly and on time even in this difficult period. As you may have noticed, we do not flinch from spending whatever it takes to make sure our reporters reach where the story is. Our stellar coronavirus coverage is a good example. You can check some of it here.
This comes with a sizable cost. For us to continue bringing quality journalism, we need readers like you to pay for it. Because the advertising market is broken too.
If you think we deserve your support, do join us in this endeavour to strengthen fair, free, courageous, and questioning journalism, please click on the link below. Your support will define our journalism, and ThePrint’s future. It will take just a few seconds of your time.