The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) has developed a diagnostic kit that can detect H1N1 virus in an hour. The kit does not need sophisticated instruments and can be used in villages where electricity is not available. It just costs Rs.1,500.

It uses a simple technique called real-time loop amplification methodology (RT LAMP) to detect the H1N1 virus, said W. Selvamurthy, Chief Controller (Life Sciences and Human Resources), DRDO. The kit has been developed by a DRDO laboratory called the Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE), situated at Gwalior.

When 400 blood samples were tested by the WHO (Communicable Diseases Centre)-approved kit and the DRDO-developed kit, positive results from both kits tallied. “There was 100 per cent agreement. The DRDO kit also diagnosed some cases missed out by the WHO (CDC)-approved kit. So our kit is more specific and sensitive. That is its strength,” Dr. Selvamurthy said.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh praised the DRDO kit in his inaugural address at the Indian Science Congress on January 3, 2010 in Thiruvananthapuram. He had said: “I also commend the DRDO for developing a new and rapid diagnostic method for detecting the H1N1 virus. We need to build our scientific capabilities in a way that they can respond in real time to problems such as pandemics.”

DRDE Director R. Vijayaraghavan called the kit “a powerful tool.” When 900 blood samples were tested by this kit the results were 100 per cent accurate and they came fast, he said.

With the swine flu, caused by H1N1 virus, emerging as a global pandemic, there is a need to diagnose it as quickly as possible and the quick diagnosis is critical to early medical intervention before the disease gets complicated, said the DRDO chief controller.

The WHO kit takes a long time — almost a day — to find out whether an individual tested positive or not for the virus. It used a methodology called real-time polymerised chain reaction (RTPCR), which needed a sophisticated instrument named fluorescent detector, to detect the virus. Besides, the kit costs between Rs.8,000 and Rs.10,000. But the DRDO kit did not need the fluorescent detector.

Dr. Selvamurthy explained: “Instead, it used the RT LAMP technique. Every virus has a DNA structure. The loop of the DNA, specific to the virus, gets amplified. Here, you can visually see the change of colour to know whether the H1N1 sample is positive or negative.” The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) did parallel testing of the virus, using both kits. The results tallied, he said.

The DRDO kit is subject to clearance by the ICMR and the Drug Controller-General of India before it reaches the market.

Dr. Vijayaraghavan said the DRDE had developed kits for detecting dengue, chikungunya and the Japanese encephalitis.

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