IIT Kharagpur develops technology for COVID-19 rapid test

The rapid test can be conducted in an ultra-low-cost portable device with the test results available in a customised smartphone application for dissemination within one hour

IIT Kharagpur, RT-PCR tests, COVID-19, Prof Suman Chakraborty, Dr Arindam Mondal, Portable device

In a unique effort, researchers at IIT Kharagpur have innovated a novel portable rapid diagnostic device to detect COVID-19 infection. This first-of-its-kind device will bring the testing for COVID-19 out from the walls of expensive laboratories and RT-PCR machines and enable testing at affordable costs for the under-served community across the world.

This entire test can be conducted in an ultra-low-cost portable enclosure as an alternative to specialized laboratory equipment. The same portable unit can be used for a large number of tests, on mere replacement of the paper cartridge after each test. The device has been proven to produce no false result with remarkable accuracy and sensitivity compatible to standard RT-PCR tests.

This test has an unprecedented low cost of less than Rs 400/- per test, taking all components of expenses and business model into account. A video in English about the Novel Technology of IIT Kharagpur's first-of-its-kind portable rapid diagnostic device for COVID-19 can be found by clicking on this link - https://fromsmash.com/IIT-KGP-COVID-Testing-Novel-Technology.

The testing technologies currently under use are expensive, despite the innovations in low-cost testing kits as the actual testing machinery cost remains high. Further testing mechanism has logistical issues due to the infrastructural requirement of the testing centres. A team of researchers from IIT Kharagpur, contemplating on the challenge, realized the alternative cannot be new innovations for the existing detection systems such as testing kits and PCR machines but a disruptive approach leading to a new technology and testing process being innovated without sacrificing the scientific rigor and medically acceptable high standards of the test results.

Prof Suman Chakraborty from the Mechanical Engineering Department, IIT Kharagpur, and Dr. Arindam Mondal from the School of Bio Science, IIT Kharagpur, came up with the concept of a portable non-invasive rapid detection test for COVID-19 thus taking the testing mechanism to a whole new level. The technology essentially deploys a disposable simple paper-strip for chemical analysis and visualization of results.

The entire test can be conducted in an ultra-low-cost portable enclosure as an alternative to specialized laboratory equipment. The same portable unit can be used for a large number of tests, on mere replacement of the paper cartridge after each test. The new device has been designed to be usable at locations with extremely poor resources in an uncontrolled environment, catering the needs of the underserved population.  Moreover, it can be operated by minimally trained personnel, precluding the needs for skilled technicians.

The research team has successfully validated the detection procedure, taking time of approximately 60 minutes to run each test. This obviates the need of an expensive PCR machine, by means of a set of innovations such as a portable automated pre-programmable temperature control unit for viral testing, introduction of a special detection unit based on genomic analysis, and a customized smartphone application for dissemination of test results without requiring manual interpretation. While the Institute can produce the testing kit up to a certain scale, patent licensing will facilitate commercialization opportunities for medical technology companies.

Under the guidance of the Professors, the device design and fabrication work has been spearheaded by doctoral student Sujay Kumar Biswas, and the bio-analytical protocol has been standardized by doctoral students Mr. Saptarshi Banerjee and Nandita Kedia. Dr Aditya Bandopahyay has further helped in developing the thermal unit.

Highlighting the need for such equipment, Prof. Suman Chakraborty, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kharagpur, said, “In assessing the utility of a specific method of disease detection, there is a common failure to recognize that the cost of the test kit may not turn out to be the most critical factor from the viewpoint of affordable diagnosis, unlike what is being commonly portrayed. Rather, the greater challenge is complete elimination of the need for any specialized infrastructure and ensuring the possibility of conducting tests at large scale at low cost without compromised accuracy."

He added, "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, on the other hand, are either invasive (blood tests) and non-indicative of early stage of development of the infection, or dependent on reagents that are extremely unstable and cannot be implemented in resource-limited settings.” 

The Equipment developed by IIT Kharagpur Researchers will cost about ₹ 2,000 if a pilot facility is used. Use of a large-scale commercial facility will further reduce with increase in the production scale. This compares very favourably with the RT PCR machine costing Rs 15 Lakh.

Further, Dr Arindam Mondal, Assistant Professor, School of Bio Science, IIT Kharagpur, added, “The unique portable device developed by the IIT Kharagpur researchers has not only been validated for the diagnostics of COVID-19, but also been designed to be capable of 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.” 

The project received financial support from the Institute in late April as Prof. V K Tewari, Director, IIT Kharagpur, decided to set up a fund to support COVID-19 related research and product development.