Now to a special report on a scientific breakthrough in detecting virus infections. Production of a newly-developed nucleic acid chip -- that can identify a number of common respiratory viruses -- is now in full swing. It's being seen as a bit of a game-changer, as it will take much of the burden off front-line medical workers. Our reporter Wei Lynn Tang has more.
In the absence of a vaccine, early detection and isolation are all the more important. Suspected COVID-19 cases can now be diagnosed in just 90 minutes, thanks to this newly-developed chip. In fact, it can detect six respiratory viruses altogether, simultaneously, including, of course, the novel coronavirus.
CHEN LEI Head, Clinical Research Management Department West China Hospital of Sichuan University "In our industry, we believe nucleic acid detection is more accurate than antibodies. Just to share with you, in a previous experiment, we found that a patient was misdiagnosed. The COVID-19 patient had actually recovered, but showed symptoms thereafter. He was first diagnosed as being RE-infected with the novel coronavirus. But our chip detected he was also co-infected with ANOTHER virus. So this is where our clinical value lies."
Over 300 samples from throat swabs were obtained and completed in a clinical validation, in two weeks. With this chip, Chen says if the patient is tested positive, a one-time test is enough.
Another medical expert says the chip comes in handy to detect other forms of influenzas, which are higher in quantity, every year.
CAO YU Chief Physician, Emergency Medicine Department West China Hospital of Sichuan University "When a patient sees the doctor, he or she will not tell us which virus they have. They will instead tell us where they feel discomfort. For patients who may be in critical condition, we need to be able to identify the problem as soon as possible. Rapid detection gives us more time to carry out protective measures and provide treatment."
The chip was jointly developed by experts from West China Hospital, Tsinghua University, and Chengdu Capital Bio Technology, a biochip and biochemical testing instruments company.
It was done under the guidance of Chinese respiratory expert, Zhong Nanshan. And the team believes simplicity is the name of the game.
LIU JIE Director, Department of Infectious Diseases and Vaccine West China Hospital of Sichuan University "First we get the patient's sample, the swab, we extract nucleic acid, we come here and mix with reagent i.e. enzyme, primer, and put into the chip. We then put the chip in the machine and can read the results. So those two lines show the positive, and here we show the patient's two genes, one S and N, based on relative fluorescence intensity, we can read the intensity, patient is positive for the new coronavirus."
WEI LYNN TANG Chengdu "One of the main challenges now is still the insufficient supply of testing kits. Currently, we understand diagnosis is first and mostly reserved for patients who show symptoms of COVID-19. But with the increased accuracy and production volume of these detection chips, hopefully, those suspected with mild symptoms and even with no symptoms at all can be tested. Should these people be carriers, they can then be isolated quickly to prevent the spread of the coronavirus."
Authorities approved the chip on February 22nd. 12-thousand chips and related diagnostic machines have already been donated to Hubei province. The company can produce 24-thousand chips a day now.
LIANG DONG General Manager of Chengdu Medical Laboratory Capital Bio Technology "If and when market demand expands, we plan to double our capacity to almost 50-thousand chips a day in the next 6 months."
Meanwhile, for these medical personnel, the rationale is clear: if cases are being detected quicker, they can then channel more time and effort to treating patients. WLT, CGTN, Chengdu.