IIT Kharagpur brings out portable rapid diagnostic device to conduct COVID-19 tests at a low cost

Published : July 26, 2020 20:38 IST

The portable diagnostic device developed by IIT Kharagpur for rapid COVID-19 testing. Photo: By Special Arrangement

In what can turn out to be a major breakthrough in the fight against COVID-19 in the country, the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Kharagpur has come up with a portable rapid diagnostic device for easy and affordable testing. With this device, tests can be conducted at just Rs.400 per test, and the results will be available in an hour through a customised smartphone application.

In a press statement, IIT Kharagpur said: “This first-of-its-kind device will bring the testing for COVID-19 out from the walls of expensive laboratories and RT-PCR [reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction] machines and enable testing at affordable costs for the under-served community across the world.”

It further said that while the institute could produce the testing kit up to a certain scale, “patent licensing will facilitate commercialisation opportunities for medical technology companies”.

The device offers a non-invasive rapid detection test for COVID-19 using a disposable paper strip for chemical analysis and visualisation of results. It has a set of innovations such as a portable automated pre-programmable temperature control unit for the genomic analysis, along with a specially functionalised detection unit on a simple strip of paper, and a customised smartphone application for dissemination of test results.

The same device can be used for a large number of tests simply by replacing the paper cartridge in it after each test. The device “has been designed to be usable at locations with extremely poor resources in an uncontrolled environment, catering to the needs of the under-served population. Moreover, it can be operated by minimally trained personnel, precluding the needs for skilled technicians,” the statement said.

The cost of the device is around Rs.2,000 for a pilot facility, whereas the cost of an RT-PCR machine is around Rs.15 Lakh. The idea was conceived by Suman Chakraborty of the Mechanical Engineering Department and Arindam Mondal of the School of Bio Science at the IIT.

Suman Chakraborty said: “In assessing the utility of a specific method of disease detection, there is a common failure to recognise that the cost of the test kit may not turn out to be the most critical factor from the viewpoint of affordable diagnosis. Rather, the greater challenge is complete elimination of the need for any specialised infrastructure and ensuring the possibility of conducting tests at large scale at low cost without compromised accuracy. In that light, the RT-PCR-based tests suffer from a compelling constraint of requiring an elaborate laboratory infrastructure and support system, including the operational and maintenance cost, to perform the test. The alternative existing approaches to these tests are either invasive (blood tests) and non-indicative of the early stage of development of the infection, or dependent on reagents that are extremely unstable and cannot be implemented in resource-limited settings.”

According to Arindam Mondal, the portable device can not only be used for the testing of COVID-19, but also for detecting any other kind of RNA virus by following the same generic procedure. “The impact of this, therefore, is long lasting, empowered by the capability of detecting unforeseen viral pandemics in the coming years that may potentially endanger human lives time and again,” he said. Under the guidance of Chakraborty and Mondal, doctoral students Sujay Kumar Biswas spearheaded the device design and fabrication work, and Saptarshi Banerjee and Nandita Kedia standardised the bio-analytical protocol. Aditya Bandopadhyay, Assistant Professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering, helped in developing the thermal unit.

V.K. Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, said: “This unique innovation is aligned with the institutional vision to develop high-end health-care technologies that can be afforded by the ailing common people all around the globe at virtually no cost, and is likely to make significant breakthrough in global viral pandemic management.”

At a time when COVID cases are increasing at an alarming rate and doctors and experts are stressing on the need to conduct more tests, and when delay in obtaining test results is causing great anxiety among patients, the medical community has welcomed this new portable device. Tamal Laha, a well-known Kolkata-based doctor, told Frontline: “Early detection of COVID-19 is of enormous importance. Most of the deaths are occurring because the detection do not take place timely enough. Early detection means early intervention and more lives can be saved.”