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

Rishabh Gulati

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Covid-19

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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ICDMA FOUNDER TO INTRODUCE AI PLATFORM FOR IDENTIFYING AND MITIGATING DIGITAL RISKS

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ICDMA is a provider of IT services such as Cyber Forensics, IT Audit, IT Risk Evaluation, and Digital Security. In recent years, it has become a tried-and-true standard for businesses looking to defend their brands, enterprises, and reputations from crippling cyber attacks. They develop and deploy information security platforms and services, both standard and personalised, to protect, evaluate, and respond to cyber threats such as security breaches that occur in your systems and networks. The services they provide include Application and Web Development, Graphic Design, Security Audits, Cyber Security Services, Vulnerability Assessments, Fraud Risk Management, and IT Consultancy.

In addition, the firm achieved awards for being the best Cyber Forensics firm preventing businesses from external threats. A cybersecurity analyst is responsible for the security of an organisation, business, or government agency from cyber threats. Their primary role is to analyse any possible threat that might occur through or to your system and come up with plausible and practical solutions to protect you.

Being a cyber security expert and analyst, Dheeraj Kumar has years of experience and stays up-to-date with the current crimes and security trends. He believes that like many other professions, this is a never-ending learning field. They monitor your networks and then analyse them to find common threat patterns or trends. Further, they design software that suits the needs of the problem at hand and ensures that these measures are maintained properly. If, in any case, they encounter a new problem, they utilise their years of experience and knowledge to produce a unique solution.

Witnessing the increased cyber threats, Cybersecurity analyst Dheeraj advises people to use the Internet wisely and productively. Dheeraj is currently working on an Al-driven platform for identifying and mitigating digital risks and counteracting brand impersonation attacks with the company’s patented technologies at its core. Dheeraj’s experience in threat hunting and cyber intelligence has been fused into an ecosystem of highly sophisticated software and hardware solutions designed to monitor, identify, and prevent cyberattacks.

A cybersecurity analyst is responsible for the security of an organisation, business or government agency from cyber threats. Their primary role is to analyse any possible threat that might occur through or to your system and come up with plausible solutions.

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EXPO 2020 A GLOBAL PLATFORM TO HIGHLIGHT ACHIEVEMENTS OF SPACE SECTOR: EMM PROJECT MANAGER

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The six-month Expo 2020 Dubai is a crucial window for the participating countries to present their accomplishments across different sectors, and the space sector is one of them. The event will shed light on the development of this sector around the world, emphasising its importance for humans in particular and the planet in general.

Expo 2020 has devoted a full week to space, from 17 to 23 October, during which a dialogue session will be held with Emirati astronauts along with entertainment, art and science activities. Also, information related to space sciences will be disseminated among other related space activities. In an interview with the Emirates News Agency (WAM), Omran Sharaf, Project Manager of Emirates Mars Mission (EMM), said, “This year, the UAE has achieved milestone accomplishments in the space sector by its arrival to Mars, and before that, it had played a key role in stimulating this sector besides the science and technology sectors.”

On the role of Expo 2020 Dubai as a prominent global platform to highlight the country’s achievements in the national space sector, Al Sharaf pointed out that Expo is not only a global event to showcase the cultures of other countries, but rather a platform for presenting scientific, technical and cultural achievements around the world.

He added that one of the reasons for the quick establishment of the space sector in the country “is because this sector depends on international cooperation, and the UAE did not consider its space programme as a race with other countries, but viewed it as an opportunity to cooperate with different nations, which contributed to activating the role of the sector and speeding its development, thus placing the UAE at the forefront of countries in this sector.”

Regarding the most nationally prominent projects in the space sector during the current period, Sharaf said, “The space sector is going through a very important and sensitive stage today, as the UAE has previously invested through the ‘Hope Probe’ project and other related projects to attract knowledge to the country from abroad and build on the capabilities of Emirati youth through knowledge transfer programmes.”

“Today, after His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President, Prime Minister and Ruler of Dubai; and His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, announced the upcoming mission, which is a new space programme to explore planet Venus and seven other [asteroids] in the solar system, the focus will be on transferring knowledge from the UAE space sector to the private sector to create a stimulating environment and support the science and technology sector in the country, and at the same time serve the UAE’s economy is facing various challenges, including water resources and food resources, among others,” he added.

When asked regarding the sector’s participation in the Space Week at Expo 2020, Sharaf said that the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Centre and the various specialised authorities have a great role in Expo. As for Space Week, there are various participations, including lectures, seminars, or receiving various delegations to discuss cooperation in the space sector.

“This is a great opportunity for countries to work together, and we, as the Emirati space sector, have decided to take advantage of this opportunity at Expo to build and strengthen these relations, and it will be the beginning of greater cooperation and ambitious projects across the world and the region.”

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IIT KANPUR STUDY EXPLAINS THE SUCCESS OF COVID-19 CONTROL MODEL OF UTTAR PRADESH

The information has been collated and reviewed by the Social and Political Research Foundation, a policy think tank based in New Delhi, aimed at making public policy research holistic, accessible, and evidence-based.

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The second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the health system across India. Most states struggled to prevent the surge in cases and ensure adequate supply as the virus created a situation of upheaval. However, a recent study led by Padma Shri Awardee Prof. Manindra Agrawal of IIT-Kanpur elaborates that with careful planning, multiple strategies and close monitoring Uttar Pradesh’s Covid-19 response model turned out to be more effective in comparison with many other states.

TABLE 1: NTPR DURING THE SECOND WAVE

Source: IIT Kanpur studyGraph 1: Source: Prowess monthly employment database

The data points out that the daily case count was brought down to just 1,497 on 31 May after the peak of 38,000 was recorded on 24 April. It can be noted that the reduction in numbers happened quite fast in the state as compared with many other ones, for example, Maharashtra and Kerala, which supports the study’s arguments.

Beginning with the foremost concern of reducing the spread, the UP model followed the Test, Trace, Treat, Tackle (TTTT) approach. Under the strategy, the TTTT teams were instated in rural UP to conduct door to door testing, enabling early detection and ensuring isolation and treatment. These TTTT teams covered around 97,941 villages. Niti Aayog and WHO also lauded the efforts of the state in conducting a mammoth house-to-house testing and tracing drive, supported by micro-planning and concurrent follow-ups. As highlighted by the IIT-Kanpur study, other measures of the state involved capacity building through intensive training on all major aspects of Covid-19, provision of infrastructures like ICU beds, ventilators, and creation of safety nets and incentives via state and central funding schemes (PMJJBY, PMSBY, AKBY, etc.).

While preventing the surge in cases was one aspect of the model, the government also managed the high demand crisis of oxygen resounding throughout the nation then. To tackle the surge in demand the government set up an oxygen monitoring system to track oxygen tankers and rolled out a stringent oxygen audit which saved around 30 MT of oxygen per day. Also, the state’s strategy to airlift empty tankers with the help of IAF lessened the turnaround time saving 10 hours. Apart from ensuring these, the model also addressed the concerns regarding the livelihood of the people. With the commitment to save the lives and livelihoods of people, the UP government did not resort to strict lockdowns and opted for partial curfews to break the Covid-19 chain. And, adapting to the situation of the pandemic, the government supplied policies for ease of mobility (separate buses and trains for migrant workers), employability (DBT 1000 to migrants) and sustenance (cash transfers to marginalised sections). The study also states that such measures helped in keeping the unemployment rate below the national average as depicted in the graph below.

Formulated on the four essential pillars of protection of livelihood, optimisation of economy, facilitation of healthcare services and restriction of virus spread, it has been pointed through the study that the UP Covid-19 model has created a benchmark. The study then draws a comparison among the states based on the Normalised Test Positivity Rate (NTPR) which is the ratio of Test Positivity Ratio and percentage of active cases. It shows that the strategy of the UP model was to aggressively change the pandemic which helped in the control.

Furthermore, the study also found that the timing of the containment measures was near-optimal, which in any other situation could have caused a peak of more than 70,000 daily cases as shown in the graph below.

Nonetheless, the second wave has dealt a heavy blow to not just India’s but globally existing health infrastructure, unveiling a systemic failure that led many to conclude that no model or strategy is perfect. This points towards a large scope of improvement for all state administrations and governing bodies.

The information has been collated and reviewed by the Social and Political Research Foundation, a policy think tank based in New Delhi, aimed at making public policy research holistic, accessible, and evidence-based.

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58 abstracts pertain to research in Covid-19 at PGIMER

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Out of 576 abstracts received for showcase, 58 abstracts pertain to research in COVID 19. Only research conducted in the last three years in Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research has been included for the showcase for the 8TH Annual Research Day at the institute.

“With 576 abstracts received, the highest so far, there has been an overwhelming response for the 8th Annual Research Day of PGIMER which is being celebrated on 22nd October. Another first this year is the compilation of H index from all the departments, which measures both the productivity and citation impact of the publications. Basically, through this, the intent is to monitor our strengths as well as our areas of improvement in the domain of research in the institute,” stated Prof. A.K.Gupta, Dean (Research) & Medical Superintendent, PGIMER while briefing at the curtain-raiser organised for the upcoming Annual Research Day here at PGIMER today.

“With the two more categories added this year from NIPS and NINE in the earlier categories of medical, and surgical and para clinical, 47 awards will be given to the best entries including all categories,” shared Gupta.

Detailing about the mandate of the Annual Research Day, the dean (Research) further shared, “The end objective of any research is to bring in more and more innovation and translate them into excellent clinical services for the masses. With the remarkable research contributions by the participants, we are hopeful of further upskilling our clinical services, thereby, helping our patients.”

Another senior faculty present included Prof. Vishali Gupta, Deptt. of Ophthalmology, Prof. K. Gaba, Sub-Dean (Research) & Head, Deptt. of Oral Health Sciences, Dr Arnav Pal, Faculty In-charge, MERC and Prof. Ramandeep Singh, Deptt. of Ophthalmology.

Citing personalised medicine as the future, Prof. Vishali Gupta from Deptt. of Ophthalmology, PGIMER called the event a landmark opportunity for collaboration and cross-fertilisation of ideas and knowledge among the luminaries within the institute.

While giving her perspective on Annual Research Day Prof. K. Gaba, Sub-Dean (Research) & Head, Deptt. of Oral Health Sciences shared, “The Research Day connotes the need for teamwork, mentorship and synergy among various departments and institutes.

Dr Arnab Pal, Faculty In-charge, MERC, who has been closely involved in putting together the Annual Research Day stated, “Out of 576 abstracts received for showcase, 58 abstracts pertain to research in COVID 19. Only research conducted in the last three years in PGIMER has been included for the showcase.”

“Annual Research Day instils a sense of competition among the young fellow doctors and makes them more aspirational by raising the bar for them’, said Prof. Ramandeep from Deptt. of Ophthalmology.

Briefing further, Prof. A.K.Gupta, Dean (Research) & Medical Superintendent, PGIMER informed, “The Annual Research Day will have the august presence of two eminent medical scientists of the country, Prof. Y.K. Chawla, former Director and Prof. Digambar Behera, former Dean (Research) of PGIMER as Chief Guest and Guest of Honour respectively.”

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PM Modi showers praise on Haryana CM Khattar

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JHAJJAR: Prime Minister Narendra Modi remotely inaugurated the newly constructed Infosys Foundation Vishram Sadan in the National Cancer Institute campus located in the Badsha area of Jhajjar district.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi dedicated Vishram Sadan at Badsa NIC, Jhajjar to the nation, through video conferencing.

Haryana Chief Minister, Manohar Lal, Health Minister Anil Vij, BJP State President Omprakash Dhankhar, and MP from Rohtak Lok Sabha constituency, Dr Arvind Sharma were present in the inauguration ceremony at Badsa NCI campus.

Union Health Minister Mansukh Mandaviya and Infosys Foundation Chairperson Sudha Murthy joined the video conference. During the event, Prime Minister Narendra Modi showered praise on Haryana Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar.

“Haryana has got the most honest Chief Minister in the last five decades. I have been with Manoharlalji for a long time but after becoming the Chief Minister, his talent has shone even more,” Prime Minister Modi said.

“The Central government on several counts has learnt from the methods of the Haryana government. I congratulate Manoharlalji for his successful efforts,” added the Prime Minister.

AIIMS director Dr Randeep Guleria was also present at the opening ceremony.

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PUNJAB CM URGES POLICE TO ENSURE EFFECTIVE, TRANSPARENT POLICING ACROSS THE STATE

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Punjab Chief Minister Charanjit Singh Channi on Thursday asked the Police force to ensure effective, efficient and transparent policing across the state to instil confidence of the general public in the law and order machinery.

Prioritising the challenges being faced by the state, Channi asked the entire police force right from top brass to the bottom to work in unison to eradicate corruption, break the drug supply chain, illicit liquor trade and curb the sand mafia with heavy hand. The Chief Minister categorically said that the police should develop a system to identify the drug peddlers/smugglers who were supplying drugs to our youth so as to fell prey to this menace.

Chairing the first meeting after assuming the charge as Chief Minister here at CMO this evening, Channi asked the officers to discharge their duties with utmost dedication; honesty and professional commitment so that the people should feel the difference and a message to this effect must go down the line.

Showing grave concern over the adulteration of food products like milk, cheese and other dairy products, the Chief Minister asked the police department to launch a vigorous campaign in tandem with the health department to crack down on such unscrupulous elements, who were playing havoc with the health of the people. He also asked the ACS Home to rope in the vigilance teams to trap these adulterators indulging in such inhuman practices.

The Chief Minister further said that all the officers who have been recently posted on new assignments strictly on their merit and track record should now perform their duties diligently to effectively deliver the goods in terms of reposing the trust of common man in the policing. Channi categorically said that none of any person without any fault should be implicated in false cases or harassed unnecessarily by keeping them under illegal custody.

The Chief Minister also asked the SSPs to issue detailed directions to all the DSPs and SHOs to ensure that the petty shopkeepers especially the vendors should not be fleeced by taking money from them in lieu of allowing them to put stalls for selling crackers and other items during the coming Diwali. He also asked the police to firmly deal with those anti-social elements indulging in the malpractices of betting/gambling and be given the exemplary punishment as deterrents for others without showing any laxity. He however said the patrolling especially at night during the festival season should be intensified to avoid any untoward incident.

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