All-in-one test provides promising solution for COVID-19 detection and mutational surveillance

A new type of COVID-19 testing strategy could help streamline the process of identifying cases, tracking variants, and detecting co-infectious viruses.

Currently, separate tests and complex workflows are involved in each of these three diagnostic procedures, with analyzes typically performed in highly specialized facilities. KAUST researchers have now combined all three types of tests into a single procedure that should allow point-of-care monitoring of COVID-19 and the many emerging variants of SARS-CoV-2.

“Our all-in-one assay provides a promising integrated solution for field-deployable rapid detection and mutational surveillance of pandemic viruses,” said stem cell biologist Mo Li, who led the study.

The test involves a portable mini-lab the size of a briefcase that bypasses all of the slow and expensive techniques that are standard for COVID-19 testing and monitoring. The new test takes advantage of a recent genetic method (called recombinase polymerase amplification) and a next-generation portable sequencer to quickly detect the presence of viral sequences and provide readings – up to 96 patient samples at a time .

Li’s team, working with researchers from Saudi Arabia, the United States and Spain, designed the test to decode five segments of the SARS-CoV-2 genome, each chosen to guide tracking of variants. . They also incorporated tests for three common respiratory viruses that can cause symptoms similar to COVID-19.

In collaboration with clinical collaborators from hospitals in Mecca, Medina and Jeddah, the team validated the technique – called NIRVANA – using nose and throat swabs from people suspected of having SARS-CoV infections. 2. They also tested wastewater samples collected from KAUST’s municipal wastewater to show how the method could enable population-level surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses.

“NIRVANA can quickly diagnose multiple viral infections at high throughput,” notes Chongwei Bi, Ph.D. student in Li’s lab. Additionally, in terms of SARS-CoV-2 surveillance, “it can simultaneously detect the virus and report its mutations, ”he adds.

With the support of the Research Rapid Response Team (part of the university’s Smart Health initiative), Li and his lab group continue to refine the NIRVANA platform for large-scale deployment. .

One of the limitations of the test is that it can only detect SARS-CoV-2 mutations in certain genomic regions, and as new variants of concern continue to emerge around the world, these regions may need to be put. updated to reflect the evolving nature of the virus. .

At the same time, we are looking to collaborate with hospitals to test NIRVANA in the clinic. “

Mo Li, stem cell biologist


KAUST – King Abdullah University of Science and Technology

Journal reference:

Bi, C., et al. (2021) Simultaneous detection and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 mutations and co-infections of several respiratory viruses by rapid sequencing deployable in the field. Med.