A team of researchers at the Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi has developed a low cost method of detecting Covid-19, PTI reported on Friday. The institute claimed the new testing method – based on real time polymerase chain reaction-based methods of diagnosis – has been approved by the Indian Council for Medical Research.

This has come at a time when the Indian Council of Medical Research has halted testing for the coronavirus using the Chinese rapid testing kits because of massive variations in test results, compounding the challenge to contain the pandemic.

The current testing methods for Covid-19 are “probe-based” while the one developed by the institute is a “probe-free” method, which reduces the cost of testing without compromising on its accuracy, IIT-Delhi said.

“The assay has been validated at ICMR with a sensitivity and specificity of 100%,” an unidentified official of IIT-Delhi told PTI. “This makes IIT [Delhi] the first academic institute to have obtained ICMR approval for a real-time PCR-based diagnostic assay.”

The probe-free assay for Covid-19 will be useful for specific affordable high throughput testing, as it can be easily scaled up because it does not require fluorescent probes, the official added. The institute is now targeting large-scale deployment of the kit at affordable prices with suitable industrial partners “as soon as possible”.

The researchers at IIT-Delhi used comparative sequence analyses to identify unique regions, or short stretches of Ribonucleic Acid in the Covid-19 and SARS COV-2 genome, Professor Vivekanandan Perumal, the lead member of the team, told PTI. “These unique regions are not present in other human coronaviruses providing an opportunity to specifically detect Covid-19,” Perumal said.

RNA or Ribonucleic Acid is one of the major biological macromolecules essential for all known forms of life. It performs various important biological roles related to protein synthesis such as transcription, decoding, regulation and expression of genes.

“Primer sets, targeting unique regions in the spike protein of Covid-19, were designed and tested using real time polymerase chain reaction,” Perumal said. “The primers designed by the group specifically bind to regions conserved in over 200 fully sequenced Covid-19 genomes. The sensitivity of this in-house assay is comparable to that of commercially available kits.”