Researchers at the Francis Crick Institute have validated a method to test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, which is quicker, cheaper and as accurate as conventional methods. The team have shared their protocols for using this promising method and how to report results to health authorities.
The method, reverse transcription loop-mediated thermal amplification (RT-LAMP), looks for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 genetic material in samples taken from nose and throat swabs.
RT-LAMP is faster than the conventional polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test, with a result being provided after only 25 minutes. This could quadruple the number of tests carried out and provide rapid information about whether an individual should self-isolate, reducing the risk of transmission.
“As lockdown restrictions are lifted, testing people for this coronavirus and, where necessary, instructing them and their close contacts to self-isolate is absolutely vital. Without effective testing, the virus can spread quickly throughout communities, causing many more deaths,” says Caetano Reis e Sousa, author and head of the Immunobiology lab at the Crick.
The protocols for setting up and running tests using this method have been shared by the Crick researchers on the preprint server medRxiv. The researchers have also shared a process for how to report results to public health authorities.
Michael Buck, co-lead author and postdoctoral training fellow in the Immunobiology lab at the Crick, says: “We’ve shared all the information you would need to set up an RT-LAMP testing pipeline for SARS-CoV-2. We hope that this may help new or existing facilities expand and improve the efficiency of their testing.”
RT-LAMP is also highly cost effective, with a ten-fold reduction in consumable and reagents spending in comparison to the RT-qPCR testing method.
Enzo Poirier, co-lead author and postdoctoral training fellow in the Immunobiology lab at the Crick, says: “This method is accurate, robust, time and cost effective, and can even be used with less equipment than what is needed for PCR. As a result, it has enormous potential in helping to identify infected individuals to control this pandemic and any future waves of infection.”
The Francis Crick Institute set up a SARS-CoV-2 testing facility in April 2020, and has since processed over 40,000 samples using the traditional PCR method, helping test staff from many London hospitals, care homes, the London Ambulance Service, mental health trusts and community providers. The team leading the testing are investigating how to roll out RT-LAMP within the facility.
This work was funded by Rosetrees Trust and the John Black Charitable Foundation.