NEW DELHI: Scientists of the Nagpur-based National Environmental Engineering Research Institute (NEERI) have developed a ‘saline gargle RT-PCR method’ for testing COVID-19 samples that can provide results within three hours.
The saline gargle method offers a bunch of attractive benefits — it’s simple, fast, cost-effective, patient-friendly and comfortable. It offers instant results and is well-suited for rural and tribal areas, given the minimal infrastructure requirements.
Krishna Khairnar, Senior Scientist, Environmental Virology Cell, NEERI says, “Swab collection method requires time. Moreover, since it is an invasive technique, it is a bit uncomfortable for patients. Some time is lost also in the transport of the sample to the collection centre. On the other hand, the saline gargle RT-PCR method is instant, comfortable and patient-friendly. Sampling is done instantly and results will be generated within three hours.”
The method is non-invasive and so simple that the patients themselves can collect the sample. Collection methods like nasopharyngeal and oropharyngeal swab collection require technical expertise; they are also time-consuming.
In contrast, the saline gargle RT-PCR method uses a simple collection tube filled with saline solution. The patient gargles the solution and rinses it inside the tube. This sample in the collection tube is taken to the laboratory where it is kept at room temperature, in a special buffer solution prepared by NEERI.
An RNA template is produced when this solution is heated, which is further processed for Reverse Transcription Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR). This particular method of collecting and processing the sample enables to save on the otherwise costly infrastructural requirement of RNA extraction.
People can also test themselves since this method allows self-sampling. The method is environment-friendly as well, since waste generation is minimized.
The scientist expects that this innovative testing technique will be especially beneficial for rural and tribal areas where infrastructure requirements can be a constraint. The technique has received the approval of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). NEERI has further been asked to train other testing labs to help scale up its adoption across the country.
Dr Khairnar and his team hope that the method is implemented at the national level, resulting in faster and more citizen-friendly testing, thereby strengthening the battle against the pandemic.
“Scientists, researchers and lab technicians of the Environmental Virology Cell at NEERI have taken painstaking efforts to develop this patient-friendly technique amid surging COVID-19 infections in the Vidarbha region,” he added.