Covid-19: Brno scientists’ test faster than PCR, more accurate than antigen

Kristýna Brzobohatá, Filip Pardy, photo: archive of CEITEC

Czech researchers at the Central European Institute of Technology in Brno have developed a new way to test for Covid-19 based on isothermal amplification. They say their method, known at RT-LAMP for short, detects the virus faster than PCR tests and is more accurate than antigen ones.

The researchers who developed the RT-LAMP method at the technology institute at Masaryk University in Brno have already begun offering licences to commercial manufacturers.

It works by placing a nasal swab in a test tube, heated to about 65 degrees, which amplifies the coronavirus genetic material. According to Filip Pardy, a member of the team that developed the RT-LAMP method, the virus can then be detected with the naked eye.

“There is a colour change in response to the process. There is a sensitive dye, thanks to which the result can be seen directly. When the reaction is positive, it turns from pink to blue. So, the person performing the test can simply place the test tube on a pure white surface, under normal white light, and is able to read it quite clearly.”

PCR-Tests,  photo: Michaela Danelová,  Czech Radio

The RT-LAMP method, the Brno researchers say, is more reliable than antigen tests and can be administered without the having to transport samples to a central laboratory.

While it is not quite as accurate as a “gold standard” PCR test, Filip Pardy told Czech Radio, it is faster, cheaper and easier to use. Theoretically, they could be used, for example, in schools or companies and other places where the government has mandated regular testing, which do not have laboratory facilities.

“Compared to a PCR test, of course, the sensitivity is a little lower. But it has better properties in that the reaction is simpler and more straightforward. The result is ready within 45 minutes. The sensitivity is in the order of hundreds and thousands of input molecules, while a PCR test reaches up to dozens.

“We have made a ‘briefcase’ that contains everything, but it is necessary to have someone with laboratory or relevant experience administer it. So, it’s not a self-testing thing. It could be used for testing in companies or in basic laboratories. This reaction does not require a fluorescent cycler. The equipment needed costs one-tenth what of is needed to do PCR tests.”

Filip Pardy says that the Brno researchers are now negotiating the use of a prototype licence for this diagnostic kit with two companies. The aim is to quickly get it on the market.

Czech researchers at the BIOCEV centre of Charles University and Academy of Sciences have developed a similar test, in terms of speed, accuracy, cost and portability, using saliva samples. There, they hope to soon bring self-testing kits to market.