Researchers at the Delhi-based CSIR-Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) have come up with a revolutionary new test to detect the strains of COVID-19. It is a paper-based test that if circulated can make strides in the testing process. This test is only a fraction of the cost of the current tests, making it easy to mass circulate.
The test is named Feluda after a fictional Bengali detective. It is to be made by the Tata group of industries and just might be the first paper-based test available in the market. The test was sampled on 2000 patients on both unaffected and positive patients of Corona.
This test has two portions and has 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity. Both allow for not too many false negatives and not too many false positives respectively, which ensures a high rate of accuracy by eliminating those without the disease almost immediately.
This could be huge for India specifically, as the country now has had 100,000 deaths from the virus, making the second highest in the world after the US. India has been testing more than a million samples a day in 1200 laboratories. So to say that the testing is stretched thin would be an understatement.
Dr. Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health policies reiterated the same saying, “There are still long wait times and unavailability of kits. And we are doing a lot of rapid antigen testing which has problems with false negatives.”
Currently, India has been using two testing methods, the Polymerase Chain Reactor (PCR) and the Antigen test. PCR is a swab test that costs 2400INR, it is comparatively more reliable as there are low false positives and false negatives. The Antigen test, however, is much faster than PCR and is more accurate in detecting positive cases but has a high rate of false negatives.
Hence, Feluda can offer the reliability and the speed of both these tests and they don’t require sophisticated machines and can be done much easier.
In regards to the sample collection method, it will also collect a nasal swab like the PCR test as India does not allow for saliva testing.
The Feluda test uses the Crispr technology- Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats- which is gene-editing technology. The technology can be best explained as using the computer cursor to edit typos.
Gene-editing is mainly used to prevent infections and treat sickness such as sickle disease. CRISPR technology has the ability to detect and read out the strains of the virus in the DNA on a piece of paper.
Testing for the virus is still not affordable as the majority of citizens are middle class or low class. A fellow of research at Harvard medical Dr. Stephen Kissler said to the BBC,” Testing remains a limited resource and something that we need to do everything we can to improve its availability. So Feluda is an important step in that direction.”
Feluda can also mean a lot in terms of progress for the field of gene-editing.
“India has the opportunity to show the value of this test because it has such a big population and it’s coming right at the time when it is needed. If their efficacy is demonstrated, it can have benefits that ripple around the world,” said Dr. Kissler.
This test can be taken at home and sent to the process at the specified test center. It’ll take an hour, at best, to return results and can be done at just 500INR, which is just a fraction of the current test cost. This could mean higher accessibility to test and detecting more cases.