A team of scientists in India have developed a faster and cheaper COVID-19 test that could deliver results in less than an hour.

The test is named Feluda, in honour of one of the country’s famous fictional detectives. It was greenlit for commercial use by India’s drug authority in September when it passed the Indian Council of Medical Research’s (ICMR) quality benchmark – Feluda had a 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity for detecting coronavirus, according to a CNN report

“The accuracy of a test is based on these two proportions,” explains Soutik Biswas and Krutika Pathi of the BBC. “A test that’s highly sensitive will detect almost everyone who has the disease; and a test that has high-specificity will correctly rule out almost everyone who doesn’t have the disease.”

A test with high sensitivity ensures that there are not too many false-negative results, while high specificity decreases the possibility of false-positive results.

The paper-based test uses CRISPR, a gene-editing technology, costs less than $7 ( approximately R117), and will be similar to a pH level paper strip or a pregnancy test, according to The Science Times.

The rapid test kit could allow at-home self-testing in the future, according to Dr Anurag Agarwal. At present, it is only intended for use in labs.

Agarwal is the director of the Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) in New Delhi, where the kit was created before being shared with Indian conglomerate, Tata, which will manufacture the kits.

The test strives to “address the urgent need for accurate mass testing,” said Tata in a statement.

India has had more than six-million confirmed infections and more than 100 000 people have lost their lives to the disease so far. 

At present it is testing a million samples per day in 1200 facilities across the country, using two tests – the most-used polymerase chain reaction (PCR) swab test and the faster antigen test.

The PCR is more reliable because of its low false-positive and low false-negative results, while the antigen tests are more affordable and are better at detecting positive infections but produce more false-negative results than the PCR test, according to the BBC.

“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,” said Agarwal to the BBC.

Picture: Unsplash

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