CCMB getting into next level of COVID testing

CCMB director Rakesh Mishra  

While CSIR-Centre for Cellular & Molecular Biology (CCMB)’s revolutionary proposal of testing dry swabs collected from COVID-19 patients as a faster, cheaper alternative to RT-qPCR test awaits Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) approval, it has been focusing on four more exciting technologies, said director Rakesh Mishra.

Of those, Next Generation Sequencing (NGS)-based diagnostics is currently being standardised in Telangana and Karnataka which can handle 20,000-50,000 samples in one go. “It can be used effectively for high surveillance where 1,000 samples each can be collected, tagged and pooled into a tube. Similar number of samples can be collected from 20-50 different collection centres and brought to the NGS centres. These can be processed and barcoded before sequencing in one run. When done at such a large scale, it will not cost more than ₹200 per test and each NGS centre can test up to 1 lakh samples in 48 hours,” he said.

Second project is about anti-body detection in blood through a traditional scientific method called ‘biolayer interferometry’ used in labs for protein testing and this is being tried out for COVID sero-surveillance with a target cost of ₹50 per test and up to 200 samples done in one hour by one technician. “We are validating the process and trying to scale up”, he said.

Rapid antigen tests

Third project is with the Indian Institute of Technology-Hyderabad (IIT-H) where rapid antigen testing can be done for a large number of samples within half hour using nanotechnology for a price of about ₹250-350 with zero chance of cross-contamination.

The research institute is also collaborating with neighbour and sister organisation of Indian Institute of Chemical Technology (IICT) for an ‘Effluent-based epidemiological study’ to estimate the level of infection from the sewage read out by undertaking a study of samples from the Effluent Treatment Plants (ETPs). “We know how many people live under each ETP and from this we can calculate the infection rate,” he said.

Dr. Mishra attested that young researchers and scientists are behind these novel ideas while the startups involved are trying to bring them into the market. He disclosed that when the pandemic broke out and there was a discussion about scaling up research activities for testing, training, validating newer technologies, screening of drugs, vaccines, sequencing the virus and understanding the genome, the most “enthusiastic group” was that of a group of 150-odd student volunteers.

“These youngsters changed the lab set-up, started to grow the virus, pooling of samples, putting standard operating protocols in place and helped us in training a lot of manpower who are now manning various testing centres across the city and State. It has been very encouraging and supporting for me as new ideas have emerged,” he said.

Cost-effective testing

The director has also been eagerly waiting for ICMR permission to take up dry swab testing of RT-qPCR tests. It can be done in 50% less time — faster by five hours, 40% less cost and requires less manpower. “If your lab is doing 200 tests a day, it can do 600-800 tests a day through this method. We can save up to ₹100 crore a day and test 10 lakh people from the 2-3 lakh being done currently enabling mass screening across the country,” he pointed out.

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Printable version | Jan 21, 2021 4:24:23 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/Hyderabad/ccmb-getting-into-next-level-of-covid-testing/article32370281.ece

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