Israeli nanotechnologists say they have found a way to test the molecules one by one for coronavirus and eliminate the most time-consuming process in the COVID-19 test.
In regular testing for viruses, laboratory teams must massively increase the number of molecules they have from each patient’s sample through a process known as amplification. This usually takes between one and two hours and requires special chemicals. Millions of molecules are needed before the sample can be analyzed.
But the method, just developed in Haifa, tested and outlined in the peer-reviewed ACS Nano magazine, requires only 100 molecules, eliminating any need for amplification, bioengineer and nanotechnology expert Amit Meller told The Times of Israel on Monday.
“We have developed a way to pass molecules one by one through a small nano hole,” said Meller of the Technical Institute in Israel. “The hole is called a nanopore and is not new, but it was introduced for the first time to test RNA for coronavirus.”
He said that in addition to being used for coronavirus, his method of analysis could also be used for screening for secondary cancers, and said he hoped it would be commercialized quickly for both uses. He said the key was that he maintained a level of precision in the analysis of ribonucleic acid, RNA, “which is essential in both the contexts we studied – the RNA biomarkers of metastatic cancer and the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”
His method begins in exactly the same way as existing tests: The patient is tamponade, his sample is dissolved in a liquid, and the ribonucleic acid or RNA is converted into DNA that is suitable for screening. But instead of amplifying the sample, it is immediately tested with a nanopore, one molecule at a time, and lab workers assess whether there is a cancerous biomarker or SARS-CoV-2 and, if so, how much.
Using the nano method, the amount of chemicals needed is reduced 100 times compared to regular laboratory analysis, according to Meller. “Our progress has the potential to significantly reduce testing costs,” he said.
Discussing the benefits of eliminating amplification in COVID-19 and cancer screening, he said: “Modern laboratory methods cannot look at individual molecules, so amplification is needed, which not only takes time but also reduces accuracy.
“If you remember when you try to amplify a very quiet sound with an audio amplifier, you end up getting extra interference and noise, which is exactly what happens when amplifying coronavirus tests. That is why the results are not always accurate. As we remove the gain, we expect our method to increase accuracy. ”