Germany: The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus can be reliably detected using commercially available mass spectrometers. In the journal “Clinical Proteomics,” researchers from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg (MLU) present a new method for detecting bacterial and fungal infections that use equipment that is already in use in hospitals and laboratories. It only takes two hours from swab to result. According to the researchers, the approach is easily adaptable to detect other pathogens and could thus aid in future pandemics.
The new method requires a nasal or throat swab. The sample needs to be prepared before it can be analysed by a mass spectrometer, which takes only a few seconds. In MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry, a laser pulse is used to transfer the sample to the gas phase – then the mass of the individual components is measured. Professor Andrea Sinz from the Institute of Pharmacy at MLU, who specialises in mass spectrometry and proteins said,
This allows us to directly and unambiguously measure individual virus particles of the coronavirus. Thus false-positive results can be ruled out.
Her team was already able to show in July 2020 that mass spectrometers are generally capable of detecting SARS-CoV-2. However, at this time, the method was still time-consuming and required very high-end equipment.
The advantage of the new method is that MALDI-TOF mass spectrometers are already being used in many laboratories and clinics to diagnose bacterial or fungal infections and are thus readily available. The devices can even distinguish between different variants of the virus. However, the method is not yet as sensitive as polymerase chain reaction (PCR), the most sensitive corona test to date. This means that not all infections may be detected when there is a very low viral load. On the other hand, it is much faster and more flexible. Lydia Kollhoff, lead author of the study, explains,
In acute phases, the method would make an ideal addition to PCR because we would be able to analyse a lot of samples very quickly. Rapid and reliable results may make it easier to contain outbreaks.
Moreover, the approach could be adapted rather easily to other pathogens in future pandemics and supplement PCR testing.
The scientists from Halle want to further optimise the method in partnership with the University of Leipzig Medical Centre. Following this, the method would undergo a certification process so that it could be used clinically.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)
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