A group of researchers led by Assistant Professor Shao Huilin at the Institute for Health Innovation & Technology (iHealthtech) located at the National University of Singapore (NUS) is working on the development of a rapid Wuhan novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) detection kit, based on the enVision technology platform which they invented in 2018.
HOW IT WORKS
Traditional polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-based coronavirus detection kits take about a day to produce results, while the latest lab-on-chip detection kit currently in development by Veredus Laboratories can produce results in about 2 hours. enVision (enzyme-assisted nanocomplexes for visual identification of nucleic acids) can be designed to detect a wide range of diseases – from emerging infectious diseases (e.g. Zika and Ebola) and high-prevalence infections (e.g. hepatitis, dengue, and malaria) to various types of cancers and genetic diseases.
enVision takes between 30 minutes to one hour to detect the presence of diseases, which is two to four times faster than existing infection diagnostics methods. In addition, enVision only requires a very small amount of sample and can work at room temperature and does not require heaters or special pumps, making it very portable.
In 2018, Assistant Professor Shao and her team developed patented DNA molecular machines that can recognize genetic material of different diseases and perform different functions. These molecular machines form the backbone of the enVision platform.
The novel platform adopts a ‘plug-and-play’ modular design and uses microfluidic technology to reduce the amount of samples and biochemical reagents required as well as to optimize the technology’s sensitivity for visual readouts.
TIMELINE FOR DEVELOPMENT
According to a TV interview with MediaCorp Channel 8 in Singapore, Assistant Professor Shao said that the first phase of development and testing will be done using man-made samples, which can be done within a few weeks. The subsequent phase will require actual human samples, which will be more complicated as real human blood and saliva samples contain other compounds.
The research team estimates that the new Wuhan novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) detection kit will take a few months before hitting the market. According to the Ministry of Health, such detection kits must be approved by the Health Sciences Authority (HSA) before it is made commercially available.