Medical experts are cheering the development of a new inexpensive paper-based test for the novel coronavirus that could be a “game changer” in the fight against the pandemic.
According to the BBC, the innovation was developed by a team of scientists in India and mimics a pregnancy test in both ease and time.
“This is a simple, precise, reliable, scalable and frugal test,” announced Professor K. Vijay Raghavan, a principal scientific adviser to the Indian government.
The test has been named Feluda after a fictional Indian detective, and health industry leaders are hoping to release it to laboratories and clinics soon. Scientists have claimed that results come in less than an hour and the kit will cost around $6.75.
Unfortunately, the procedure will still necessitate a swab from the nasal passage — a process that many have called uncomfortable if not painful. However, the Feluda is different from the regular polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test in that the specimen is then analyzed by using basic gene editing technology instead of the multiple rounds under a microscope.
This means that the new tests can be done more cheaply and in more places. Moreover, Feluda is incredibly effective, with a reported 96 percent sensitivity and 98 percent specificity. The two terms measure both the accuracy in detecting the virus and its false readings. It is also more accurate than the antigen tests that are often used as an alternative for the PCR test.
“The new test has the reliability of the PCR test, is quicker and can be done in smaller laboratories which don’t have sophisticated machines,” explained Dr. Anurag Agarwal, director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology.
Scientists hope that the breakthrough will be able to increase testing, which had not been as widespread as needed because of shortages and wait times.
“There are still long wait times and unavailability of kits. And we are doing a lot of rapid antigen testing which have problems with false negatives,” said Dr. Anant Bhan, a researcher in global health and health policy.
“Testing remains a limited resource and something that we need to do everything we can to improve its availability. So Feluda is an important step in that direction,” added Dr. Stephen Kissler, a research fellow at Harvard Medical School.
Moreover, the testing process is so simple that those behind the discovery are hoping that it could one day be administered by the general public in their homes.
“In the ideal world… taking a test will be as easy as brushing your teeth or making toast,” added Kissler.
So far, COVID-19 infected over 35 million people across the globe — including President Donald Trump — and has claimed over 1 million lives.