Chinese researchers have designed a new accurate and low-cost test to diagnose COVID-19. The test not only provides quick results but also eliminates the need for advanced diagnostic equipment. The test was described in a study published in the journal PLOS Pathogens.

The researchers from Xuzhou Medical University in China wrote in the study: "In this study, we developed an isothermal, CRISPR-based diagnostic for COVID-19 with near single-copy sensitivity."

The authors added: "We demonstrated a CRISPR-based assay for COVID-19 that offered shorter turn-around time and great diagnostic value, even in under-resourced settings without the need for thermal cyclers."

COVID-19 Test
COVID-19 Test (Representational Picture) Pixabay

Increasing Need for Rapid Testing

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 molecular 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. According to the researchers, a lack of rapid and accurate molecular diagnostic tools has hampered efficient public health responses to the viral threat.

Employing CRISPR Technology

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, the researchers said.

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 noted.

(With inputs from agencies)