In the unrelenting battle against the Covid-19 pandemic, Singaporean scientists have successfully developed an improved testing method, which gives results with a much faster turnaround time of just 36 minutes.
As nations all over the world are fortifying their battlefronts against Covid-19, it has become universal knowledge that mass testing is paramount to keeping the virus at bay. Given this, the new discovery by Singaporean scientists of a testing method that gives results in just 36 minutes is a game-changer in Singapore’s battle against the Covid-19 pandemic.
According to a recent report by Channel News Asia, a team of scientists from Nanyang Technological University (NTU)’s Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine, have discovered an improved way of testing individuals for Covid-19. The turnaround time speeds up the process by up to four times. Not only did they claim to have improved the speed of the test, but they also said that the discovery also improves the handling time and cost of the laboratory tests.
The polymerase chain reaction (PCR) Covid-19 test which is currently being used and seen as the most sensitive testing method, works by copying a sample’s genetic material repetitively in order to find any sign of Covid-19. However, this process requires chemicals in order to purify the ribonucleic acid (RNA) from other components found within the sample–and the supply of these chemicals is now becoming short given its global demand.
According to NTU, “The method developed by NTU LKCMedicine combines many of these steps and allows direct testing on the crude patient sample, cutting down the turnaround time from sample-to-result, and removing the need for RNA purification chemicals.” Furthermore, the university also said that the test can be administered using portable equipment and can be set up in communities as a key tool for controlling the spread of Covid-19.
Though the enhanced test method still utilises the “direct PCR method,” it no longer requires RNA purification. “Instead, they added inhibitor-resistant enzymes and reagents targeting compounds that obstruct RNA amplification, such as mucin,” the university said. “These enzymes and reagents, which are commercially available, have high resistance to such compounds that otherwise inhibit PCR, rendering the test inaccurate.”
Despite the fast turnaround time for results, the new method can detect Covid-19 “with confidence.”
Associate Professor Eric Yap, who spearheads the team said, “We need to determine the actual utility and benefits in a real-world setting, and to understand if there are any trade-offs. When one bottleneck is removed, other challenges may emerge – like ensuring quality control, or reducing manual errors. Our goal is to develop ultrafast and automated tests that yield results in minutes, and that can be performed by healthcare workers in the clinic with similar accuracy and sensitivity as in specialised laboratories.”
This will then allow the tests to be administered even in more “low resource settings that need them the most.”