Albert Einstein Hospital has developed a technique for diagnosing coronavirus capable of analyzing up to 16 times more samples at a time compared to the most used today, the RT-PCR. According to the institution, it is the first covid-19 exam to be patented in the world that uses new generation genetic sequencing technology, based on the reading of small fragments of DNA to identify diseases or genetic mutations.
Like the RT-PCR molecular biology exam, the new Einstein test also looks for the genetic material of the virus in the samples collected and is also indicated for patients in the acute phase of the disease.
The difference is that, through sequencing techniques and the use of an artificial intelligence tool, the material analysis process is automated, making it possible to process 1,536 samples per cycle, a number 16 times greater than the 96 processed by the standard RT-PCR technique.
With the same indication and the same level of precision as the molecular biology exam, it would be an option to expand testing in the country.
"In a single process, we were able to analyze 1,536 samples. If we were to do that same number of analyzes using RT-PCR, we would need a much larger equipment park", says Sidney Klajner, president of Einstein.
The only type indicated so far as a possibility for mass testing was serological, which detects antibodies produced by the patient from contact with the virus and not the invader's genetic material. Because of this, serology tests are usually indicated at least 10 days after the onset of the infection, which prevents its use for the purpose of rapid detection, isolation of the patient and monitoring of contacts. It also has a high rate of false-negative results.
According to Mayana Zatz, director of the Human Genome Research Center and professor at the University of São Paulo (USP), new generation genetic sequencing technology is already used in other situations for RNA analysis and its great advantage is that, when associated to some equipment, the volume of processed samples increases significantly.
"If this new test can increase the diagnostic capacity at a lower cost, it will be extremely important to have an additional examination option for patients at the beginning of the infection, when it is still possible to isolate the person and prevent him from transmitting the virus for more people ", he says.
João Renato Rebello Pinho, coordinator of the Special Techniques Laboratory at Einstein, says that the unit's laboratory expertise in carrying out genetic tests facilitated the development of the technique. "We already had a very large structure in this field, but focused mainly on tests related to cancer and genetic diseases. With the pandemic, the demand for this type of exam fell and we took advantage of the structure to develop the technique for diagnosing viral diseases."
The test should reach the market at a lower price than the RT-PCR, which costs R $ 250. The technique will be available to hospital patients in three weeks.
Einstein says that it does not rule out the realization of partnerships with SUS to offer the exam in public laboratories.
The collection process is the same as the RT-PCR – collection of secretion and saliva through a flexible rod – and the result comes out within 72 hours. The information is from the newspaper O Estado de S. Paulo.