Hebrew U scientists develop fast, cheap Covid-19 test

Drive in coronavirus test center  / Photo: Globes

The new testing method uses materials commonly found in diagnostic labs.

Professor Nir Friedman of Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute of Life Sciences and School of Engineering and Computer Science and Professor Naomi Habib of the university's Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Science have developed what they claim is a faster and cheaper way to test for Covid-19 than is currently available. The new testing method uses materials commonly found in diagnostic labs.

Testing for Covid-19 currently involves extracting RNA molecules from a patient's swab sample to see whether they contain viral RNA that confirms the presence of the Covid-19 virus. The new method developed by Friedman and Habib can do the same thing, only faster. "The virus detection protocol we developed is four-to-ten times faster than the current protocol," Habib says. "It’s based on magnetic beads and works both robotically and manually. The robotic protocol has already been tested at Hadassah Hospital and is now fully operational."

Another advantage to this new testing method is its low price. The test relies on materials that are readily available and easy to manufacture locally, making it significantly cheaper than imported kits. Magnetic beads are the only item in the protocol that still needs to be imported from overseas. However, these beads can be recycled and used again and again. As Friedman explains, "Our Covid-19 test significantly reduces labs’ dependence on external factors. To date, we’ve tested hundreds of clinical samples from Hadassah Hospital and our results were identical to those found by the kits currently being used."

The researchers say that their next step is to develop a method that will allow for tens of thousands of samples to be tested simultaneously instead of the current rate of thousands of tests. The idea is to base this on genomic sequencing and the results, so far, are promising. "We’re encouraged by preliminary-and positive indications-that this method will work," Friedman said.

To complete their tests, Habib and Friedman have teamed up with 15 researchers and lab students from the university. "It’s very moving to see a large group of researchers so dedicated to finding a solution to our current crisis, one that will get Israel-and hopefully the rest of the world-back to normal," said Habib.

The research team includes Dr. Ayelet Rahat Dr. Masha Adam, Alon Chapelbaum, Dr. Ronen Sadeh and Dr. Agnes Kloschendler, along with two robotics experts, Dr. Uri Shabi and Dr. Moshe Cohen. The study was funded by the Caesarea Foundation.

Separately, Hebrew University has announced that the Edmond de Rothschild Foundation has provided it with NIS 15 million to fund coronavirus research. The donation will fund 60 research teams at the university that are working to find a vaccine, produce faster and cheaper testing methods, and develop targeted treatments for those afflicted by Covid-19.

Published by Globes, Israel business news - en.globes.co.il - on April 13, 2020

© Copyright of Globes Publisher Itonut (1983) Ltd. 2020

Drive in coronavirus test center  / Photo: Globes
Drive in coronavirus test center / Photo: Globes
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