- FELUDA tests will become available from December 1
- To be marketed as TataMD CHECK, these tests use gene-based technology
- This test can deliver a result in 45 minutes
New Delhi: It is a cruel irony that the indigenously developed paper strip COVID-19 test is called Feluda. The powerhouse actor who first brought to life onscreen the fictional detective character of Feluda created by prolific filmmaker Satyajit Ray, Soumitra Chatterjee passed away on November 15 after battling COVID-19 complications. A grim reminder that the pandemic is still around after nearly a year of the first reported cases.
With an aim to provide a faster and cheaper diagnosis of COVID-19, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (IGIB) have developed a paper strip test called FNCAS9 Editor-Limited Uniform Detection Assay or FELUDA. According to the developers, the test is a simpler and more accessible alternative to the quantitative RT-PCR (Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction) test which is considered as the gold standard in the diagnosis of COVID-19 and more accurate than an antigen test. While the test was launched in Delhi on November 19 by the Tata group in collaboration with the Apollo group of hospitals, the test will be become available in markets in Delhi and other states from December 1 as “TataMD CHECK”.
While talking to NDTV, Dr Debojyoti Chakraborty, senior Scientist and one of the two creators of the paper strip test which has been granted government approval said,
The FELUDA test is a replacement of the RT-PCR test as per the guidelines of Drug Controller General of India (DCGI). It is as accurate as quantitative RT-PCR. One who does this test, does not require to go for a round of RT-PCR test for confirmation after getting FELUDA test done. The reason we started working on this test was to ramp up testing and so that antigen tests can be discouraged. FELUDA can be used easily and is more accurate than antigen test. This test will be much easier to deploy; it will have much more penetration.
Dr. Chakraborty said that currently, the SARS-CoV-2 diagnostic test happens in three ways- the RT-PCR which are highly accurate but require advanced lab machinery, antigen test which is a rapid test that detects virus proteins but it is less sensitive, not accurate and generates a large number of ‘False Negatives’ and lastly, it is antibody test where the body’s response to the virus (antibodies generated) is measured to know if an infection had occurred but it does not tell about the current infection.
FELUDA, like other inexpensive paper-based tests being developed in other countries, claims to combine the accuracy of the PCR test with the accessibility of the antigen kits. It is based on the gene-editing technology called Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CRISPR). Dr. Chakraborty said,
CRISPR technology is a Nobel Prize winning technology. It uses CRISPR-Cas9 which is protein which can hook on to a sequence on SARS-CoV-2 gene and then it gives a visual result on a paper strip like a pregnancy test. The person taking the test needs to get their throat swab done by the lab technician for the sample. RNA (Ribonucleic acid) will be extracted from the sample for producing the result. This process does not require a real-time quantitative machine needed for RT-PCR which is generally an expensive machine and not easily available.
Step By Step Procedure of FELUDA Paper Strip Test
- A sample is taken from the person’s nose or throat
- RNA is then isolated from that sample
- DNA is made from RNA by putting it in a PCR machine
- After this, the protein CRISPR-Cas9 is added
- Next, the strip is put and left for two minutes
- One line in the strip means that the person is negative while two lines will mean that the person is coronavirus positive.
While RT-PCT test for COVID-19 conducted by an authorised laboratory in the country takes upto 24 hours to provide the result to the person, FELUDA can deliver the result in only 45 minutes with same accuracy. While talking about the efficiency of the test, Girish Krishnamurthy, CEO and MD, TataMD CHECK said to NDTV,
The test comes with the ability to correctly identify those with the disease called as sensitivity of a test as high as 96 per cent. The specificity or the ability of the test to correctly identify those without the disease is 98 per cent. The time taken from extracting RNA sample in the lab to providing the result to the patient takes only 75 minutes. Only 40-45 minutes are required to diagnose COVID-19 on the extracted RNA and produce a result.
As per Mr. Krishnamurthy, the exact cost of the test will be revealed on December 1 but is expected to be Rs. 500- Rs. 600.
Commenting on the newly launched test, Dr Om Srivastav, Director Infectious Diseases, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre said that while it is a good test, its impact on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic is yet to be seen. He said,
It is too early to say that the TataMD CHECK based on FELUDA will help control the pandemic. This is something we will know after some days. But it is for sure a good test in principle. It should be opening up newer horizons as far as ramping up of testing in the country is concerned. It given an option to detect the virus in as short time as possible while costing as low as possible. CRISPR technology used by the test can have implications for other infections also. Therefore, it is quite exciting to see how the experience of using this test for COVID-19 comes out to be.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.