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SARS-CoV-2 Rapid Research: Fast track isothermal viral diagnostics

COVID-19 Research Area(s): Diagnostics, Genomics & Transmission Dynamics, Epidemiology & Public Health, Equipment & Technology Innovations

COVID-19 is a disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). With no treatment or vaccine currently available, it is imperative that rapid, sensitive, and simple screening technologies be developed that can be fully integrated into near real time medical reporting infrastructure so as to speedily identify viral carriers and slow this and future viral outbreaks. The Unrau laboratory at Simon Fraser University has engineered an isothermal RNA detection kit that reports the presence of RNA template by fluorogenic aptamer (RNA Mango) synthesis in a simple fluorogenic assay (Mango NASBA). This technology, which currently is being commercialised for the detection of pathogens in human tissue culture, can be rapidly adapted for the detection of SARS-CoV_2 and offers several advantages over conventional RT-PCR: 1. Isothermal Mango NASBA viral testing has a considerably simpler work flow than RT-PCR requiring only a simple fixed temperature device capable of detecting fluorescent readout. This offers the potential to implement real time viral testing at venues (i.e. airports, borders, hospitals etc) not normally considered with existing RT-PCR methodologies and that require more costly real-time thermocycler infrastructure to implement. 2. We anticipate that Mango NASBA offers a significant time saving of ~3-4 fold relative to a standard RT-PCR assay (90-120 min) in high viral load samples. Should high sensitivity detection be required, Nested Mango NASBA can be performed subsequently. Nested Mango NASBA has sensitivity directly comparable to RT-PCR and can be performed twice as fast as RT-PCR methodologies. We have assembled a team consisting of biochemists, chemists, virologists, engineers, and clinicians offering deep skills in four highly significant fields to help address this rapidly evolving SARS-CoV_2 crisis. This highly expert team will meet the challenge of detecting and tracking this rapidly evolving viral outbreak.