Australia low cost diagnostic test for COVID-19

Dr Parwinder Kaur leads an innovative Translational Genomics research program at the University of WA. Courtesy: Supplied

Researchers from the University of Western Australia (UWA) and Baylor College of Medicine, in the US state of Texas, are collaborating towards developing a new diagnostic test for COVID-19. Through genome sequencing, this novel test potentially explores mutations across various strains of this coronavirus, aid vaccine development and understand its journey across populations globally.

In an era where global health care systems are facing significant challenges, testing for COVID-19 at a diagnostic level in a time-dependent manner is the most crucial exercise to stop the spread.

Compared to conventional tests already available to test the virus, the new test is able to produce a detailed diagnostic report generated through a technique called Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS).

Associate Professor Dr Parwinder Kaur, from UWA’s Faculty of Science, is the Australian project lead.

“For years to come, humans will be co-existing with animals that can transmit diseases like COVID-19,” she said.

“So understanding the genetic makeup and behaviour of these diseases is going to be vital in preparing us for pandemics in the future.”

The results of this new test, she said, can be processed rapidly in less than two minutes using local high-performance computing software.

“The new test would enable one person to process hundreds of samples a day, at a cost comparable to current qPCR tests.

“The observations can be also very helpful in the development of an effective vaccine and identify potential drug targets.”

Dr Kaur added, “Because the test was able to detect low viral concentrations compared to other diagnostic tests, it could also be used to monitor COVID-19 through wastewater treatment plants to track its spread through communities.”

Complementing the need for the new diagnostic tests:
In the global fight against coronavirus, the world already seems to be on a mission to develop a conclusive testing standard that would not only provide results in quick time but can also provide crucial information in the development of the vaccine.

The most commonly used test to detect COVID-19 is the Reverse-Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction or most commonly known as RT-PCR. This test confirms whether someone is infected with the SARS-CoV-2 virus giving a simple ‘positive’ or ‘negative’ result.

The developers of the new test claim that with the advent of this system, the results from a potential sample can be processed relatively quickly compared to the traditional methods.

Dr Kaur says the information this test provides would be vital in designing new treatments and can also potentially transform the way we manage this infectious disease in the future.

The UWA researcher added that the test is based on technology developed through the DNA Zoo project, a global initiative that analyses DNA from different species to help researchers, leaders and policy-makers better understand species through their DNA as well as threats to their survival.

“It is currently being used for COVID-19 research, but once approved by the FDA it can be used for both the diagnostic testing of patients and to enable a better understanding of the virus.

How this test is different from the commonly used tests:
The first author of the research study, graduate student Brian St Hilaire said that the preliminary testing approach published on bioRxiv, unlike other diagnostic tests, provided more than just a positive or negative result for the virus.

“Instead, this test extracts intricate and highly complex genetic data surrounding the strain of the virus and its behaviour,” he said.

Project lead Dr Aviva Presser Aiden, from the Baylor College of Medicine, said as COVID-19 continued to spread across the world, global healthcare systems faced significant challenges.

“Extensive diagnostic testing is integral to disease control. This test will help us understand a number of unknowns about the disease and its transmission.”

Dr Aiden is hopeful that tracking new mutations and analysing differences in the genetic code of viruses from different patient samples may also facilitate the production of an effective vaccine against the coronavirus.

Source: SBS News