In order to win the battle against the coronavirus, India has decided to ramp up its COVID-19 testing. Recently, the DCGI has approved the use of a low-cost paper-based test strip to detect the COVID-19 infection within just 30 minutes. It has been developed by a research team led by Debojyoti Chakraborty and Souvik Maiti of the CSIR and Tata Group. It has been named FELUDA – similar to the fictional private detective from West Bengal created by the renowned novelist and filmmaker Satyajit Ray. The acronym FELUDA stands for – FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Direction Assay. In order to detect an infection, it uses CRISPR technology to identify the genetic material of Sars-CoV-2 and attack it. According to the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the test matches the RT-PCR in terms of its efficacy.
Furthermore, CSIR claims that ‘FELUDA’ has a quicker turnaround time and is more economical than the gold standard of COVID-19 testing. In a statement, CSIR said, “The TATA CRISPR (Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats) test, powered by CSIR-IGB (Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology), FELUDA, has met the quality benchmarks with 96% sensitivity and 98% specificity for detecting the novel coronavirus.” Furthermore, the research team also claims that it is the world’s first COVID-19 diagnostic test to deploy a specially adapted Cas9 protein to detect the Sars-CoV-2. The idea of harnessing the power CRISPR technology for COVID-19 diagnosis while working under the sickle cell mission.
CRISPR technology is used primarily to detect genetic defects and to prevent diseases from spreading. It detects a specific gene sequence within the nuclear material of the pathogen and then clips it with molecular scissors. This technology also allows the researchers to modify the genetic material of pathogens and use it to their advantage to detect several diseases. The U.S. was the first country in the world to allow emergency use of the CRISPR-based COVID-19 test developed by MIT and Harvard University in May.
FELUDA works like a basic pregnancy test strip as it changes its color when it detects the Sars-CoV-2 virus. The test costs just Rs. 500 and can be performed in a simple pathological lab as well. Hopefully, with the availability of this new test, India will be able to diagnose COVID-19 infections more quickly and strengthen its healthcare system as well.