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New COVID-19 Rapid-Test Technology Delivers Faster RT-PCR Results

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 02 Aug 2022
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Image: Infrared heating of plasmonic nanoparticles facilitates multiplexed RT-qPCR for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of Columbia Engineering)
Image: Infrared heating of plasmonic nanoparticles facilitates multiplexed RT-qPCR for rapid detection of SARS-CoV-2 (Photo courtesy of Columbia Engineering)

For more than 30 years, polymerase chain reaction (PCR) has been the gold standard in molecular diagnostic testing, detecting genetic material, such as those from a virus or from human DNA. But PCR, including reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), is mostly done at large, centralized laboratories, not in point-of-care (POC) settings, because its instrumentation is bulky, expensive, takes a long time for results, and requires trained technicians to run it. These limitations have led to a shortage of accurate POC diagnostics as well as bottlenecks in test results, particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, researchers have built an RT-PCR platform which gives results in 23 minutes that match the longer laboratory-based tests - faster than other PCR tests on the market.

The new Rover PCR system developed by researchers at Columbia Engineering (New York, NY, USA) and Rover Diagnostics (New York, NY, USA) can be adapted to test for a broad range of infectious diseases including not just COVID-19 but also flu, strep, and other viruses that require fast diagnosis. Its targeted sensitivity is higher than other types of tests such as isothermal, antigen, and CRISPR. And, at just two pounds, the Rover PCR is easy to carry around and can be used by anyone. The platform uses sample preparation techniques, combined with a new approach to thermal cycling, bypassing the standard approach of Peltier device - which heats the sample from outside the vial. Instead, Rover’s system uses a photothermal process - plasmonic thermocycling - that relies on nanoparticles irradiated by light to rapidly generate heat from inside.

The team successfully performed reverse-transcriptase quantitative PCR (RT-qPCR) in a reaction vessel containing all the PCR reagents. qPCR is the current gold-standard laboratory technique for identifying COVID infection. The technique provides quantification of infectious units, but it also poses a number of hurdles for point-of-care (POC) miniaturization. In the study, the researchers addressed these challenges by leveraging plasmonic nanoparticles - discrete metallic particles that respond to infrared light by releasing heat - to achieve real-time and multiplexed RT-qPCR on clinical specimens. The Rover team is now moving forward with a commercial product that can detect COVID-19, its variants, and other infectious diseases.

“This should really move the needle on delivering rapid and accurate molecular clinical diagnostics in decentralized settings,” said Mark Fasciano, Rover’s CEO. “Thermal cycling, so critical to DNA and RNA testing, can now be sped up and clinicians and patients alike won’t have to wait so long for results.”

Related Links:
Columbia Engineering 
Rover Diagnostics 

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