Four technologies to detect coronavirus disease (Covid-19) in 30 seconds developed by scientists from Israel are being evaluated at Delhi’s Dr Ram Manohar Lohia hospital.
About 10,000 people will be tested twice; once using the gold standard molecular RT-PCR test and then the four Israeli technologies to evaluate whether these innovations will work in a field setting. Unlike the swab sample collection method, for this test, people will have to blow into or speak in front of a breathalyser sort of an instrument which will collect a sample for testing.
If successful, these technologies can pave the way for the safe opening of businesses and people will be able to coexist with the virus till a vaccine is developed, researchers said.
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“The diagnostics are being tested in a collaboration between the Israeli Defence R&D, the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO), and Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). The first technology attempts to detect the virus by a technique called terahertz spectroscopy. In this, a sample is taken, deposited on a chip and then examined in a manner that specifically detects SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes Covid-19. This does not involve any chemistry or reagents as it does in the current standard tests. The results will come in less than a minute,” said professor K Vijay Raghavan, principal scientific advisor to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Raghavan said the second approach is called an isothermal test, and it amplifies the genetic material of the virus rapidly. “The third approach detects what are called poly amino acids specific to the virus. The fourth approach is to study speech samples from asymptomatic and presymptomatic patients, compare them with others and see if the tools of artificial intelligence can be used to identify those who are Covid-19 positive. All these approaches are working well in the laboratory setting, but the challenge is to see how they will work in a field setting,” he said.
The final product can be a combination of two or more technologies as well. “We will see which of the four technologies works better at detecting Covid-19 afflicted people. It could be a combination of two of these technologies as well. We hope to see a very robust diagnostic test finally,” said Israeli ambassador to India Ron Malka.
India’s manufacturing capacity, the ambassador said, made India a natural fit for these trials. “We are a small country and do not have the manufacturing capability like India. By combining advanced Israeli and Indian technology and India’s manufacturing prowess, we can find a way to resume our lives and exist alongside the virus till a vaccine is developed,” he said.
Prof Raghavan said, “What was yesterday considered esoteric research in now being tested for implementation. Science is about such rigorous tests. If the technologies pass the test, the collaborators will roll them out in India and elsewhere.”
Apart from the extremely rapid tests that the countries are collaborating on, the Israeli delegation has shared with the All India Institute of Medical Sciences some of the most innovative technologies that were developed in Israel to combat Covid-19.
“The flight also carried on-board 83 hi-tech respirators for those with severe disease. The export of respirators is banned in Israel, which is now experiencing a second wave of Covid-19 infections, but these were brought to India on a special waiver,” Malka said.