Developed by a research team led by Debojyoti Chakraborty and Souvik Maiti of the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Tata Group, an accurate and low-cost paper based test strip for detection of Covid-19 in less than 30 minutes has been approved for commercial launch by the Drugs Controller General of India which has been named ‘Feluda’ – a fictional private detective from West Bengal created by renowned writer and filmmaker Satyajit Ray.
Feluda, the acronym for FNCAS9 Editor Linked Uniform Detection Assay, uses indigenously developed Clustered Regularly Interspaced Short Palindromic Repeats (CSISPR ) gene editing technology to identify and target the genetic material of SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes Covid-19. According to CSIR, the test matches accuracy level of RT-PCR tests. It has a quicker turnaround time and requires less expensive equipments. The CSIR research team came about creating to the new test kit while working under the sickle cell mission for genome diagnostics and therapeutics.
Just like Feluda had the capability to solve crimes quickly, the test detects the presence of virus in minutes too. The test is similar to a pregnancy test strip that changes colour on being positive. According to Dr.Debojyoti Chakraborty, the Cas9 protein is barcoded to interact with the SARS-CoV2 sequence in the patient’s genetic material. The Cas9-SARS-CoV2 complex is then put on the paper strip, where using two lines (one control, one test) makes it possible to determine if the test sample was infected with Covid-19. The ‘Feluda’ test costs just about RS 500 while the RT-PCR tests costs anywhere between Rs 1,600 to RS 2,000.
The United States had granted emergency use approval of the world’s first CRISPR-based test for Covid-19 developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard University, way back in May. In March, only RT-PCR testing centers were available. Later, cartridge-based tests were approved by ICMR like TrueNat, CBNAAT, Abbott and Roche. In the month of June, rapid antigen kits were approved for testing. And now, the development comes at a time when India has been conducting an average of 10 lakh tests daily.