COVID Diagnostics: Getting Tested in Labs Vs DIY test kits
Updated: Jul 20
Major technologies behind diagnosing COVID‐19 are primarily based on two concepts: A. Detection of the genetic code of the virus [RNA] in respiratory samples [known as RT PCR], B. Detection of antibodies in human blood towards protein markers found on the virus surface membrane [known as RAPID/immunoassays].
Both technological platforms have their advantages and limitations.
From the perspective of DIY testing, RAPID immunoassays enjoy the position of the most common DIY testing, however, this advantage does come with some limitations. Antigen/Antibody based RAPID immunoassays are sensitive in detecting positive cases, however, they are limited in detecting positive cases in the early stages of the infection cycle.
Considering that the COVID‐19 pandemic has grown exponentially due the release of virus particles by asymptomatic cases during the initial incubation period, this form of DIY testing is less effective when it comes to effective population control in medium to high risk asymptomatic carriers of the disease.
Real Time PCR [RT PCR] based testing is one of the most sensitive techniques in the fight against COVID‐19, however, presently the technique requires sophisticated laboratory infrastructure and equipment to carry out a complicated process of extraction of purified RNA from the isolates of virus in human biological specimens. Further, purified RNA is detected using highly sensitive laser detectors using a complex enzyme chemistry and analytical software. Till now, this laboratory and instrument intensive process has caused the RT PCR based testing industry to operate in laboratory based testing models.The key limitation in current RT PCR that inhibits DIY testing is in the mode of detection and data analysis, which does not enable a simple interpretation.
However, the COVID‐19 pandemic has brought about rapid technological advances in the real-time PCR testing industry. These technological advances have allowed researchers to combine detection methodologies commonly found in RAPID testing kits with the sensitivity of viral RNA detection of Real Time PCR. One such technology is called LAMP [Loop Mediated Isothermal Amplification]. This innovative technology has the ability to revolutionize the PCR testing industry which is presently laboratory based, by replacing the detection methodology to a visual mode. Wherein, by simply spitting into a tube, and heating the sample for fifteen minutes, the change in the colour of a tube can enable the sensitive detection of the COVID‐19 viral RNA in a DIY setting. Such technological advances are expected to hit the market before the end of the year. Furthermore, such technological advances will also transform the future of virus detection ranging from the common cold to sexually transmitted diseases.