A research team from Pohang University of Science and Technology (POSTECH) has developed diagnostic technology to detect the Covid-19 Omicron variant in just 20 minutes.
The research team, led by Professor Lee Jeong-wook of the Department of Chemical Engineering, said the technology could also capture the “stealth version” of the Omicron variant. It became available on the research team‘s website on Friday.
The researchers are preparing to file a patent application for commercialization. However, they recognize that the process may take some time as clinical trials and the regulatory approval process remain in place.
“Although the diagnostic tool cannot read the entire nucleotide sequence, it can read a combination of characteristic sequences to determine the presence of the Omicron variant relatively accurately before sequencing,” said Professor Lee,
Lee pointed out that the diagnostic method could detect the stealth variant of Omicron, known to not respond to existing PCR tests, and can significantly reduce the time to analyze mutations.
The PCR test amplifies a specific gene for a virus and determines its presence in the sample. It has been used to detect infection and variants with different genetic characteristics. In the case of the Omicron variant, the existing PCR test gives negative results despite the presence of the virus due to the mutation of the spike protein. Unlike the existing Omicron variant, its stealth version gives positive results in the spike protein test, making it difficult to distinguish existing mutations.
The researchers said that analysis of the nucleotide sequence of the entire gene is necessary for an accurate diagnosis, but it also takes three to five days to see test results.
The new diagnostic method can save time by identifying only certain points with mutations in the amplified gene. In addition, the test method does not require special equipment and can be performed using a simple and easy diagnostic kit, allowing large-scale testing with less money and time.
The research team also developed a one-step diagnostic that can detect infection in 30 minutes by combining the diagnostic agent with RNA in September 2021.
“Even if a new variant emerges in the future, we will be able to respond quickly with the technology,” Lee said.