IIT Madras’s COVID-19 Test That Gives Results in 5 Minutes
Not having an effective COVID-19 test to determine the infection in the early stages is one of the problems that still exist while the world is eagerly waiting for a vaccine. The COVID antibody testing used currently is effective only after three-four days after the onset of infection by the time which, the person could have spread the infection. Moreover, people are forced to go for expensive and time-consuming RT-PCR-based standard tests, as the antigen-based tests to detect coronavirus proteins in the saliva have poor sensitivity.
From the Department of Applied Mechanics, IIT Madras, Associate Professor of Biomedical Engineering, V. V. Raghavendra Sai said that for the management and control of COVID-19, early diagnosis of the infection is important.
In order to address this issue, a research team is in the process of developing an efficient and sensitive COVID-19 diagnostic test at the Biosensors Laboratory in IIT Madras headed by Raghavendra Sai and they have already developed a prototype.
The Biosensors Laboratory was working on a fiber optic biosensor platform for the detection of bacterial toxin in urine for tuberculosis diagnosis, for the last nine years. Now, this technology has been modified for determining antigen in the saliva for the COVID-19 infection caused by the novel coronavirus.
This research for COVID-19 diagnosis is being conducted by IIT Madras in collaboration with Jitendra Satija at VIT Vellore, and Ricovr Healthcare Inc., the USA.
Sai says, “The sensor gives a digital readout and is designed to detect the SARS-CoV-2 related proteins in a person’s saliva.”
The biosensor platform shows the results in five minutes, reducing the cost of COVID testing, and removing the need for any specialized apparatus, as it is in the form of a handheld device. This technology has already been patented by IIT Madras and Ricovr Healthcare Inc, IIT Madras’s US-based collaborator.
Sai added, “As this technology can detect the slightest presence of active viral particles on the spot, which makes it accurate and different from the other molecular and antibody-based tests. We aim to make the COVID diagnosis reliable, sensitive than the existing paper-based point-of-care antigen kits, and affordable and cheaper than RT-PCR.”
Near-patient testing or point-of-care testing is a type of medical diagnostic test that enables real-time diagnostic test results within minutes that is accurate and ensures laboratory-quality results. The efficiency of the diagnosis and testing process is increased in testing at the point-of-care and it helps in making sure that patients need not wait for one-two days rather can receive instant results and quality care.
In order to bring the Point-of-care Fiber-optic Biosensor (P-FAB) Device from the lab to the market, IIT Madras has joined hands with the US-based RICOVR Healthcare. It is expected to take another three-six months for this technology’s commercialization and is expected to be used in disease diagnosis in emergency wards and primary healthcare centers and have a much wider scope of applications beyond COVID-19 diagnoses.
A Department of Science and Technology (DST) unit under the Government of India, the Science and Engineering Research Board (SERB) has provided the project with a research grant. Additionally, the research team has received an ‘Ignition Grants’ Award from a joint fund established by the US and India to promote innovation, the US India Science and Technology Endowment Fund (USISTEF). This financial support is aimed at bringing this technology to the market form the research laboratory.