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Wednesday, April 21st, 2021

Singapore scientists create diagnostic to detect SARS-CoV-2, mutations

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Faced with an already mutating SARS-CoV-2 virus, the world has found itself needing to adapt its countermeasures — and a team of scientists from Nanyang Technological University in Singapore has responded with a new test capable of detecting even mutated strains.

The VaNGuard test, as it is known, makes use of the gene-editing tool CRISPR to more readily detect SARS-CoV-2 even when it mutates. According to findings published in the journal Nature Communications, it can utilize crude patient samples taken in clinical settings to process results in 30 minutes, without even the need for RNA purification. The team has touted this showing for its speed, notable for providing results in a third of the time of a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test. Those tests require RNA purification in labs.

“Viruses are very smart,” Tan Meng How, study lead and an associate professor at NTU, said. “They can mutate, edit, or shuffle their genetic material, meaning diagnostic tests may fail to catch them. Hence, we spent considerable effort developing a robust and sensitive test that can catch the viruses even when they change their genetic sequences. In addition, frequent testing is essential for helping to break the transmission of viruses within populations, so we have developed our tests to be rapid and affordable, making them deployable in resource-poor settings.”

The diagnostic is currently capable of recognizing up to two mutations within the target sites on the SARS-CoV-2 genome. If detected, this triggers a reaction from the test, which starts cutting and tagging detectable genetic material in samples. That material will glow if positive for the virus. All of this will also make use of relatively simple, specially treated paper strips for ease of testing, similar to pregnancy tests.

While the test is currently patent-pending, the research team intends to further refine the test in the future. Once regulatory approval is achieved, it intends to commercialize the test through partnerships with diagnostic companies.