A recent research endeavor has showcased a swift and highly sensitive means of detecting SARS-CoV-2 RNA on environmental surfaces through the use of a portable laboratory device. This significant study, featured in Microbiology Spectrum, brings forth promising prospects, particularly in settings where access to conventional testing facilities is constrained. Lead author, Dr. Kouichi Kitamura of the National Institute of Infectious Diseases in Tokyo, Japan, emphasized the applicability of their findings in scenarios like cruise ships, international travel, remote islands, and tourist destinations.
The developed methods possess the potential to serve as point-of-care testing solutions, especially in applications that demand utmost sensitivity, such as risk assessment and maintaining food hygiene in industries like forestry, agriculture, aquaculture, and livestock production. These industries often operate in remote areas far from established testing laboratories, underscoring the necessity of establishing on-site detection techniques.
The researchers’ primary goal was to devise a method for on-site virus detection, primarily focusing on SARS-CoV-2, on environmental surfaces using portable devices in the absence of traditional lab facilities. While rapid detection methods like antigen tests and loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assays exist for point-of-care testing, PCR remains the gold standard for pathogen detection due to its high precision.
Portable PCR devices are of paramount importance in this context as they allow the utilization of established PCR conditions for detecting a variety of pathogens. The researchers aimed to detect viruses commonly found on frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and tabletops. They conducted experiments wherein non-infectious viral particles, including but not limited to SARS-CoV-2, were deposited on various materials, dried, and subsequently collected using swabs. The challenge was to find methods for virus detection using only portable equipment.
By employing commercially available swab kits and a portable PCR device, the researchers successfully demonstrated the feasibility of rapid on-site virus detection. Furthermore, they devised a method for extracting viral RNA using a compact centrifuge, enabling highly sensitive on-site detection, even for minute viral quantities.
Dr. Kitamura summarized the research by highlighting its comprehensive nature, encompassing everything from sample collection to PCR testing. He encouraged the adoption of this testing approach, particularly in situations demanding rapid, highly sensitive diagnostics, where access to conventional testing laboratories is limited.