Detecting H1N1 is now simpler

DRDE scientists make a cheaper system to help the people


But thanks to a bunch of defence scientists in Gwalior who have developed a cheaper and more effective product. Now, public health officials stand a better chance of fighting the virus.  

The motley group of defence scientists who have put together a quick and easy-to-operate kit to detect the H1N1 virus.  The kit is much simpler than whatever is available in the market. Besides, the existing system cannot function without an elaborate laboratory set up for diagnosis -- unlike this one.
The kit developed by scientists of the Defence Research and Development Establishment (DRDE) on the other hand, involves an innovative gene amplification technique, which has been exploited to the hilt to develop the novel diagnostics.
Amplification involves making many copies of a set of specific genes of H1N1 virus quickly so that it can be identified. What makes it an apt choice for widespread use in ordinary pathological laboratories is its simplicity.

Works perfectly
No doubt, the technique works better if the laboratory has an ordinary polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machine. But the availability of PCR is, however, not a necessary precondition. It works perfectly if the laboratories have regular ‘heating bath’ and the outcome is visible to the naked eye because of a clear  colour change if the samples contain H1N1.  In comparison, the regular H1N1 diagnosis uses expensive RT-PCR technique and imported primers. While one RT-PCR machine costs about Rs 20 lakh, an ordinary PCR costs Rs 5 lakh and a heat bath Rs 30,000.
The DRDE diagnostic is no less efficient. ‘‘It does not pick up seasonal influenza cases but detects even the borderline H1N1 cases where viral load is low," PVL Rao who heads the virology division at DRDE told Deccan Herald.

The results are out in one hour, compared to four hours taken in RT-PCR methods, used by all government and private laboratories in the first H1N1 strike. However, in both methods, the sample preparation time remains same. It is only the machine run time that is cut by one-fourth leaving the scope to carry out more tests.  Since the reagents contain a fluorescent dye, the results are visible under naked eye as well as under a regular ultra-violet lamp.

The confidence of defence scientists got a boost in the last two months after their kit was independently validated by the National Centre for Disease Control in Delhi, Post-Graduate Institute for Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh and National Institute for Mental Health and Neurosciences, Bangalore. Impressed by the diagnostic kit's success, the government has begun the process to commercialise it.
 "The process for transfer of technology for commercialisation has been initiated," defence ministry A K Antony told the Lok Sabha on November 23. DRDE has also filed an Indian patent application on the new technology.

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