Kashmiri researcher develops new saliva-based COVID test

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Kashmir: A Kashmiri researcher along with two of his colleagues at Jamia Millia Islamia (JMI), New Delhi has developed a novel saliva-based COVID19 test kit, meant to reduce testing time and dependence on laboratories.

Describing the new technique as a ‘game changer’, Dr Tanveer Ahmad, the lead researcher of the project said that it will be the first step toward developing a home-based point of care (POC) testing for COVID19.

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Along with Dr Mohan Joshi and Dr Jawed Iqbal, the trio is engaged as faculty at JMI. They were also aided by Dr Rohit Kumar from Safdarjung Hospital and Dr Gagandeep Jhingan from Valerian Private Limited.

“The limitation with the previous COVID19 test kit was that it required an RNA extraction step and a laboratory setup equipped with a PCR machine. This is completely instrument-free and does not need any laboratory set-up to perform the test,” they said. The technology has been named Cas13 Associated Saliva-based & Smartphone Integrated Testing (CASSPIT).

The test utilizes the “most sensitive and specific CRISPR-Cas system” for the diagnostics, Dr Tanvir Ahmed said. He is working as assistant professor at Multidisciplinary Center for Advanced Research and Studies, Jamia Millia Islamia. Dr Ahmed belongs to Srinagar, Kashmir and has extensive research experience of using similar technology for microbial testing. “We were working on this method since 2018. When COVID19 hit the globe, we directed our focus at finding a solution for testing for the virus with the base we had already been working on,” he said.

Dr Ahmed said a private company had shown interest in adopting the kit and legal process for transferring the technology from JMI to them was underway. “We are confident that the technology will get a quick approval from Indian Council of Medical Research,” he said. While enumerating the various benefits of the novel testing method, he said that the test can be conducted in the home setting and had been found to have 98 percent agreement with the RT-qPCR based data.

“Saliva based COVID-19 testing has been approved by the FDA, while such testing is currently not approved in India,” the researchers said while expressing optimism of having the kits available in market soon. “Considering that saliva samples are easy to collect, without incurring any discomfort to the patient, and has detection sensitivity on par with the invasive swab samples is going to change the face of COVID19 testing in India,” he said.