Scientists develop a fast, accurate, low-cost COVID-19 test

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In a new study, researchers develop a new low-cost diagnostic test for coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) that quickly delivers accurate results without the need for sophisticated equipment.

The research was conducted by a team at the Guangdong Academy of Medical Sciences and elsewhere.

The surging demand for rapid screening and identification of COVID-19 poses great diagnostic challenges.

Metagenomic next-generation sequencing (mNGS) and reverse-transcription PCR (RT-PCR) have been the most commonly used methods for diagnosing COVID-19, but each has its own limitations.

For example, sequencing is costly and has a turnaround time of nearly one day, while RT-PCR requires specialized equipment and is difficult to deploy at a large scale.

A lack of rapid and accurate molecular diagnostic tools has hampered efficient public health responses to the viral threat.

In the new study, the researchers developed an alternative COVID-19 test by leveraging CRISPR-based technology, which has been widely used in recent years for gene editing.

The assay, named CRISPR-COVID, enables high-throughput detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) – the virus that causes COVID-19.

CRISPR-COVID delivers comparable sensitivity and specificity as mNGS within as short as 40 minutes.

When produced at a large scale, the material cost of a CRISPR-COVID test could be less than 70 cents, suggesting that CRISPR-COVID is a competitive alternative not only technologically but also financially.

The team says their study provides more insights into the molecular detection of SARS-CoV-2, and also presents a novel diagnostic option for this new emerging virus.

One author of the study is Teng Xu of the Vision Medicals Center for Infectious Diseases.

The study is published in PLOS Pathogens.

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