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‘RTLAMP test is a game-changer in Covid-19 testing’

Rishabh Gulati

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Covid-19
‘RTLAMP test is a game-changer in Covid-19 testing’

Dr Ashutosh Sharma, Secretary Dept Of Science & Technology, speaks to NewsX’s Managing Editor on an indigenously developed kit that would be cheaper and tests could be done in no time.

Q. Can you tell us about the concept of an indigenous testing kit that I am told can do the test in a matter of minutes, is far cheaper. How is this being developed, where is this being developed?

A. This is indeed very positive news. Testing at a large scale and speed is one of the requirements today. So, what we need is a test that can give us the results quickly and inexpensively, and that is what Sree Chitra Tirunal Institute for Medical Sciences & Technology in Thiruvananthapuram is doing. We have a biomedical research wing that was set up about 4 years ago to make biomedical devices, because India imports a lot of them. And this was an opportunity to build on that platform. The test is called RTLAMP. The test we use currently is called RTPCR. RTPCR is the gold standard in testing, which means you can’t get false positives or false negatives with it. Hundred per cent accuracy. This particular test (RTLAMP) is equally accurate. It has no false positives, no false negatives. The score of RTLAMP tallies 100% with RTPCR. This is a very unique experiment for India. In fact, it is among the first in the world.

Q. Does this (RTLAMP) also require an RNA sequencing machine?

A. It is not a sequencing machine. There is a gene and there are 2 sequences in that gene, called N-gene. It picks up 2 fragments which are unique signatures of the virus. So, if you match both of them, this is basically the SARS-Cov2 virus. It’s a confirmatory test, you don’t need any test before or after. Once you’re done, you know whether you have the virus or not.

Q. How is this particularly different from the RTPCR test?

A. The sample preparation is similar, but there is also a new innovation here. So, you can make it much faster and more concentrated in removing RNA from there. First, you break the virus, deactivate it, and then remove RNA from there, and concentrate it so that the test can go faster. The way you concentrate RNA is an interesting innovation. You put in magnetic nanoparticles, which go and stick to the RNA fragments. Using a magnet, you can pull all RNA fragments in one place.

Q. Are the magnetic nanoparticles actually sticking to the particular part of the RNA which is distinctive for nCov2?

A. No. They’re basically pulling the entire RNA strand. They’re sticking to the RNA strands and can be pulled in one corner, hence concentrating it. Once you start with something concentrated, you can amplify it. The amplification process in this is much faster. The detection of these two domains, the fragments of the gene which are unique to the virus, is much faster. In about 10 minutes, you get a confirmatory test. The whole process takes about 2 hours. This is different from PCR, where the test in itself takes several hours. In this particular platform, on the other hand, you can do 30 tests together. In 10 minutes, you have 1 machine, and you have 30 tests. Imagine in a day, if you’re running 2 shifts or 3 shifts, you’re running about a thousand samples – in 1 day and using 1 machine.

Q. Will the machine be different, or is it the same machine?

A. No, it is a completely different machine. It’s based on fluorescence, and the amplification process is different, which is why it’s faster. It starts with a more concentrated RNA soup. There are a whole lot of things which basically add up to the speed. The great thing about this is it’s never been done before. The reason they could do it before anyone else in the world is because they were testing this platform for TB diagnosis. Before the virus came around, they were already working on this platform. They had developed it, but they were looking at the rapid diagnosis of TB.

Q. Is that the magnetic nanoparticle side – was that the test that was happening for TB?

A. No, this is a platform for TB testing which is looking at the sequence of genes. It’s a different sequence for every microbe, bacteria, virus. It’s a different signature which you have to pick up. The same platform was prepared with a few changes and tweaking. We already had the infrastructure and people in place.

Q. What is the next step?

A. ICMR refers any new test to National Institute of Virology. They ran more than 50- 100 samples on it. They then validated this test against RTPCR. The report has now gone back to ICMR, they’re working to give formal approval on it.

Q. How much of a game-changer would this be?

A. There is already a tie-up with a company. Several more companies are coming on board to have greater scale. By the end of May, we should have 500 machines functioning. Which means 1,000 tests per day from 500 machines. Five lakh tests per day will be possible by the end of May. By the end of June, there will be at least 1,000 other machines. The cost of the machine is about Rs 2.5 lakh and may go down further. The cost of PCR is Rs 15 lakh and upwards, and PCR does about 15 tests a day. Imagine that versus 1,000 tests a day. For the cost of a PCR machine, you get seven of these test machines.

Q. You said it will take a month to scale to 1-2 lakhs per day. How much can we do within a more reasonable timeframe?

A. In a day, we have to really push it, in 2-3 shifts. We would do a 1,000 tests per day on a single machine. If you have a hundred machines, that’s 1 lakh tests per day. So, 7 lakh tests in one week will be tested by 100 machines.

Q. Our current testing capacity has just touched the 40,000 mark. That gives us perspective of how much value addition this would be.

A. You could even use this test before flying. There are multiple applications for this test. It can be used on people getting into crowded spaces, they could be prevented from transmitting the disease.

Q. Does the sampling procedure use a cotton swab?

A. Yes. The sample is collected the same way. Even here, there is innovation. The sticks that we use are mostly imported. Now, they’ve been designed with a polymer which has the right kind of flexibility. All of it is going to be made in India. Q. When did this project start?

A. They started looking at it about 3-4 weeks ago. They were optimistic. We told them – look, you already have the capacity, the people, the technology, the platform. Why not just put in this virus in there? And I think it worked. They worked very hard on it. It is very important to have the right people and the right knowledge base. Everything came together in this case.

Q. Is there any key part or key technology that can still be a stumbling block?

A. Few of these parts have to be imported, but we are tying up all of those supply lines. We are also approaching MSMEs and other people in the country to see if they can make these parts. These things have a global supply chain. Everything high-tech that any country makes, there are always some parts that are imported. Because they aren’t used in large numbers. It’s not because of technology, we could make these parts. The country didn’t make them because they probably weren’t required in large numbers before this. But once you have a good market, somebody will make them.

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The pandemic damaged cricket quite a bit but thanks to the IPL we are again watching some excellent game: Dave Cameron, former president of the West Indies Cricket Board

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Dave Cameron

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special segment NewsX A-list, Dave Cameron, former president of the West Indies Cricket Board (WICB) shares with us many insights about his journey, crickets and of course what the sports during pandemic means.

Cameron talks about the assessment of the damage that cricket had to endure because of this pandemic as well as addressed how after six months the ongoing Indian Premier League (IPL) is a huge plus for cricket lovers. “It’s been tremendous and enormous but interestingly, cricket has weathered better than some other sports. Cricket has been damaged quite a bit but thank God for the IPL we are watching some excellent cricket. And I think it’s excellent because you have the best players in the world to play again” said the former WICB prez.

Cameron mentioned that though he expects to see India and Pakistan find a way to have Pakistani players playing the IPL because they are some of the best in the world.  “Cricket has been damaged but England was able to play the National series, New Zealand will too shortly but West Indies haven’t started any since the start of the pandemic so that is damaging their finances and I suspect the same for South Africa and some of the smaller countries.”

Talking about the status quo that cricket has been accustomed to in the last few decades and the kinds of changes, Cameron said, “ What cricket needs more than it is for the governing body to be the governing body and set rules and create opportunities for private investments. IPL is the brainchild of the BCCI and really flourishing because all the private attendees came and found that they can attract because of the resources. They attract the best cricketers around the world.”

Sharing his mantra and proposition Cameron would do if take on the mantle of ICC president, “Cricket must be going quicker around the world and the big countries develop cricket alongside the smaller countries and be able to have their players coaches and make the biggest leagues around the world pretty much. That’s how we’re going to grow. We need to get the United States on board and those who are huge markets and again and on board with private investors.”

Talking about the crucial notion that most of the money that comes into cricket is only from a few countries Cameron addressed that West Indies hasn’t gotten a single dollar for the particular tournaments mentioned and his plan to change that, he said “Well, I don’t think things can change overnight, it will continue to come from the big countries from the big economies. For example, Europe, you know, can contribute to our coffers. The United States is a massive contributor to those tournaments. I’m not advocating, but I believe these other tournaments in Europe are never going to smaller countries. The west is producing the kind of income simply because of the size of their economy. We should be able to see cricket, and not be paying massive retainers or international players. But I don’t. So it is something that the board needs to sit down. It’s not something I can walk in there and get done overnight. Discussions should grow to this point”

Responding to how he would tackle allegations about Test cricket being sacrificed at the altar of T2. “That is not anybody’s doing. It’s Generation Z who don’t want to take five days to consume the game but it is what the demand has been. And as a result, T20s has flourished. Now again, I believe there are certain countries’ geographies and they should just continue to play tests. England, Australia, India, Bangladesh can play and West Indies too can play. But a test match in the West Indies is a dead robot. There are not enough revenues, advertising sponsorships behind it to make this” said Cameroon.

On a concluding note, Cameron talks about West Indian cricket planning to foresee the revival as everybody wants to see the resurgence of the great 70s and 80s when it comes to the West Indies team. “ To be frank we continue to see great players now playing. This year, Andre Russell was a T20 Player of the Year. But for the West Indies is itself to be the world no 1 it’s going to require resources. I believe if we change the format as I’m suggesting and teams such as West Indies have a chance of winning the World Cup if we can put together the right mindset that says squat but conquering the world 25 years ago, I don’t just I don’t see it happening. However, if we don’t change the economics in world cricket, West Indies cricket will roll by the wayside. They have made some steps towards achieving some kind of unison in the region and I want the government to come forward and give the necessary resources otherwise they’re not going to survive.”

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During the pandemic there is rising consciousness towards one’s health and immunity which wasn’t seen earlier: Sushil Khaitan, CEO & Director, Purenutrition.in

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Sushil Khaitan

In an exclusive conversation with NewsX for its special segment NewsX A-list, Sushil Khaitan, CEO & Director, Purenutrition.in shares with us his experiences and insights in wellness and health as well as working as a seasoned entrepreneur in the manufacturing and marketing industry for over 30 years.

Known for his penchant for health and wellness, Khaitan talks about his popular nutraceutical brand, Pure Nutrition which focuses on the belief that good health and optimal wellness is everyone’s right. “Because of the pesticides and different types of chemicals being used for rapid growth for both vegetables, the nutrients of the product go down. So in order to replenish the ideal human body, we come up with these nutrition supplements” said Khaitan.

Sharing with us the basic mantra of nutraceutical, Khaitan explains, “These supplements are made with very high power bioavailable plant-based extract, which is done by an extraction process, wherein the ingredients are magnified with a very high level. So the bioavailability and the efficacy of the human body tend to work very high once we start consuming these supplements, and that replenishes those nutrient deficiencies. It is not medicine.”

Khaitan addresses the major issue of people’s perception about supplements, “First of all doctors do not really prescribe nutraceuticals, because they have been taught pharma and they are who pledges to do. So then they always get into medicines. But during the last three to five years, doctors across the world have realised that it is because of the nutrition efficiencies that the body’s resistant power to fight diseases has gone down, so they are also now realising the importance of nutraceutical. And I was surprised that many of the doctors in India now have started prescribing that people should also take supplements.”

Speaking on the importance of how during the pandemic people’s perceptions are changing towards food and immunity and for good reason. Khaitan said “People are scared with the looming fear of catching the virus and the second issue is coming about immunity. That word has been banging so much it has gone up in nominal search worldwide. They’re now even realizing the importance of immunity to fight the virus.”

Sharing with us how Pure Nutrition differentiates from other brands and USP for this brand in particular, Khaitan explains “We are natural and all our formulations are plant-based including multi-ingredients formulations. Along with that, we follow the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDAs) at the highest level. Hence it increases the efficacy and efficiency of the product.” “Considering we follow multi-ingredient formulations where we add, close to seven to eight, or minimum ten sometimes in each formulation. It is a mixture of Ayurveda, herbs and vitamins which increases the bioavailability and efficacy in the body” added Khaitan.

Talking about the clienteles his brand has received during the pandemic and the return rate of clients, Khaitan elaborated “50% is a repeat customer online, and that we have been following it for the last since the company was formed in 2016. We have seen that customers who are loyal to our brand and have enjoyed the benefits of our products have never left us. Their world of mouth around India and also with families and friends, relatives, give a lot of impetus to our optics in terms of the repeated customers are concerned.

Secondly, during this particular situation we have people coming in both online and offline especially the younger generation, the millennials as well as Gen Z have started becoming very conscious as to what they eat, how they exercise and how they live their life, what type of supplement they should take.”

On a concluding note, Khaitan stresses the particular old saying Health is wealth and tells us about the rising consciousness towards one’s health. “Suddenly we have seen a big change in the last six months which wasn’t so earlier especially in youngsters and people leading sedentary lifestyles.”

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IIT-KHARAGPUR’S ‘COVIRAP’ TEST MACHINE GETS ICMR CERTIFICATION

The Covid testing device can deliver results within an hour at the cost of Rs 500.

Preeti Sompura

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‘COVIRAP,’ the diagnostic machine developed by IIT Kharagpur researchers, has been successfully validated for its efficacy in Covid-19 detection by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR). Various commercial units have already approached the institute for technology licensing to enable a rapid reach of this innovation to the common people.

After rigorous testing with patient samples by an authorised ICMR laboratory, adhering to their strict guidelines, ICMR has now granted certification for this Covid-19 Diagnostic Test. This test has been designed to be fairly easy to conduct and affordable as well and can produce results within one hour.

This new testing method implements a highly reliable & accurate molecular diagnostic procedure, conducted in an ultra-low-cost portable device unit and costs only around Rs 500 per test.

The test results are rendered via a custom-made mobile application for dissemination without requiring manual interpretation.

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Flood-affected families in Hyderabad get Rs 10,000 state assistance

Lokeswara Rao

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Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao (KCR) has announced that his government will provide financial assistance of Rs 10,000 each to 3-4 lakh families affected by heavy rains and floods in and around Hyderabad.

The minister for municipal administration and urban development, K.T Rama Rao, visited various inundated colonies in the GHMC limits and handed over Rs 10,000 each to the flood-affected residents.

The minister visited MS Maqta and Raj Nagar in Khairatabad, MJ Colony in Shaikpet, Nadeem Colony in Tolichowki, Ayyappa Colony in Nagole, and Lingojiguda in L.B Nagar. 

Speaking at Ayyappa Colony, he said the government is handing over Rs 10,000 to provide temporary relief to the families. 

Officials will soon inspect the damaged houses and submit a report to the government. The government will provide more financial support to the families whose houses were partially/fully damaged, he added. 

He assured the people that the government will come up with permanent solutions to avoid flood-like situations in the city.

Earlier, the minister had held a review meeting with Hyderabad MLAs and MLCs at Pragathi Bhavan. He had instructed the public representatives to stay on the ground for the next 10 days and assist those who need help.

KTR appreciated the MLAs and MLCs decision to donate their two-month salaries to the CM’s Relief Fund and appealed to all elected public representatives, residential welfare associations, and NGOs to come together and support the government’s relief measures.

The minister also asked the MLAs to ensure that financial assistance reached all the affected families in their respective areas. He directed them to visit relief camps and inspect the measures and facilities being provided there.

On the other hand, TRS leaders who are facing the backlash of the public as Uppal TRS MLA Bethi Subhash Reddy tasted a bitter experience during his visit while the locals abused and threatened him not to come back. Even KTR faced the same situation but the timely intervention of police stopped the public anger. 

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TELUGU THEATRES WON’T HAVE A FESTIVE SEASON THIS YEAR

Lokeswara Rao

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Movies for this Dussehra seem to be a distant dream for Telugu people since several top producers and distributors of Tollywood met in Hyderabad about the reopening of theatres and screening of films. However, they got no clarity after the meeting.

The Andhra Pradesh government has already granted permission to reopen the theatres in the state but the Telangana government is yet to grant permissions.

A crucial meeting between Tollywood celebrities and Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrasekhar Rao (KCR) is planned to take place but has been pushed off because of the ongoing Hyderabad rains.

As per the latest update, theatres across Telugu states will not reopen in November. Most of them rejected the proposal of reopening the theatres as there is not enough content and encouraging conditions.

The meeting concluded after most of the producers suggested 4 December as the ideal date to screen films.

If theatres don’t reopen in Telangana, these would remain shut in Andhra too as it is not possible to release films in a single state with 50% occupancy. Clarity on the reopening of theatres will be attained after the government of Telangana grants permissions. A few crucial meetings are planned in the first week of November to take the final call on the issue.

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HAASAN’S MAHABHARATA REMARK IRKS AIADMK

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AIADMK minister D. Jayakumar has accused actor-turned-politician Kamal Haasan of appeasing Hindus over his remarks about the Mahabharata in a Tamil reality TV show ‘Bigg Boss’. Kamal Haasan has recently spoken about the Mahabharata in the show with the reference to the novel written by his friend. Jayamohan.

Kamal Haasan said, “Don’t think why he is speaking about Mahabharata, it is simply not about mystical stories or stories about Gods. It is about the history of our ancestors and information about the culture of the people.”

On reacting to a specific question on Kamal Haasan’s remarks on the Mahabharata and calling it the history of ancestors, Jayakumar called it Hindu appeasement ahead of the 2021 elections. “Kamal is suddenly speaking about Mahabharata only to secure votes of one community ahead of elections,” he said, adding: “No one can understand what Kamal says as he keeps changing his stand.”

Political analysts say that the remarks made by Kamal Haasan should be just seen as stage speech and observe that the actor has always been critical against these beliefs and observed that it is the same Kamal Haasan who said: “saffron is not my colour.”

During the Makkal Nidhi Maiam’s executive council meeting, Kamal Haasan was given all the powers to decide whether to face the election alone or join hands with the like-minded parties.

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