Clinician-scientists at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) Lee Kong Chian School of Medicine (LKCMedicine) have demonstrated a way to improve the speed, handling time and cost of COVID-19 laboratory tests.
The improved testing method yields results in 36 minutes – a quarter of the time required by existing gold-standard tests.
The test, which can be done with portable equipment, could also be deployed in the community as a screening tool.
In a press statement, NTU said the new approach could enable the wider adoption of COVID-19 testing for diagnosis in academic or research laboratories. It will also allow for screening and research in countries and regions with limited laboratory capabilities.
Currently, the most sensitive method for testing for COVID-19 is through a laboratory technique called polymerase chain reaction (PCR), which have to be performed by highly trained technical staff and can take a few hours. Currently, automated equipment for sample preparation costs hundreds of thousands of dollars, and requires specialised laboratory facilities.
The method developed by NTU LKCMedicine streamlines the steps and allows direct testing on the crude patient sample. This cuts down the turnaround time from sample-to-result, and removing the need for RNA purification chemicals.
"Our rapid COVID-19 test involves a single-tube reaction that reduces hands-on time and biosafety risk for lab personnel, as well as the likelihood for carryover contamination during the processing of samples,” said Wee Soon Keong, a PhD candidate at NTU LKCMedicine.
Aside from testing for COVID-19, the method developed by the NTU LKCMedicine team can also be used to detect other viruses and bacteria, including the dengue virus, which is set to plague Singapore as the country braces itself for one of the worst dengue outbreaks amid the COVID-19 pandemic.