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Results in 15 Minutes! Chinese Scientists Take the Lead in Breaking Through the Technical Difficulties of COVID-19 Detection

2022/7/20 20:37:02 Views:254

Can the time for nucleic acid test results be shorter? Yes!

On July 17, a reporter from People’s Daily Health Channel learned from Guangdong Academy of Sciences that Professor Wu Wenming, deputy director of the National Medical and Health Device Engineering Technology Research Center and scholar of the Hundred Talents Program of the Chinese Academy of Sciences, led a team to develop a portable ultra-fast PCR instrument recently. This device can detect and analyze the qPCR nucleic acid of the borderline positive COVID-19 gene locus in as fast as 15 minutes.

The R&D team of the portable ultra-fast PCR instrument, on the left is Professor Wu Wenming.

Photo from the respondent.

The fastest PCR amplification takes only 15 minutes, far exceeding the current detection speed in the market.


"At present, the PCR instruments used in the nucleic acid detection of COVID-19 on the market are time-consuming, bulky and expensive, and cannot meet the needs of rapid detection of pathogens and clinical patient shunting. Therefore, how to shorten the detection time of qPCR has been a problem that has troubled academia and industry for more than  two years." On July 17, Professor Wu Wenming said in an interview with a reporter from the People's Daily Health Channel.


Professor Wu Wenming introduced that in June 2021, the "Portable Ultra-Fast PCR Instrument" was officially established. The ten-person team has gone through more than a year of technical research, relying on the rapid heating and cooling module (the maximum heating and cooling speed exceeds 20oC/s) and low energy consumption thermal temperature cycle control algorithm, using fluorescence detection to optimize the analysis method, rapidly improving the speed of reverse transcription qPCR detection of COVID-19 samples.


On July 15, the team of Professor Wu Wenming and Professor Gu Bing, director of the Laboratory Department of Guangdong Provincial People's Hospital, conducted clinical verification of the detection performance of the ultra-fast PCR instrument. For the nucleic acid of strong positive, weak positive and negative COVID-19 samples, the conventional commercial qPCR instrument and the ultra-fast qPCR instrument were compared in the clinical laboratory. The results show that the ultra-fast qPCR instrument can complete 40 cycles of thermal cycle amplification in only 15 minutes, and the detection sensitivity is below 1000 copies/ml required by the National Health Commission.


"The concept of 15 minutes may not be clear to many people. In the past, our conventional PCR amplification reaction for nucleic acid detection generally took 1 hour and 30 minutes. The fastest amplification efficiency currently used on the market is about 60 minutes. 15-minute amplification reaction speed is much higher than the current PCR instruments on the market." Li Zhengkang, head of the clinical molecular group of Guangdong Provincial People's Hospital, told the reporter of People's Daily Health Channel.

Li Zhengkang, head of the clinical molecular group of Guangdong Provincial People's Hospital, researcher Wang Liang, and others observed the ultra-fast PCR instrument developed by Professor Wu Wenming's team on the spot. Photo from the respondent.

The clinical results are yet to be transformed, and the efficiency of nucleic acid detection will be greatly improved after being put into application.


"The current research results are still in the clinical stage and have not yet been put into large-scale applications. It is expected that the transformation from clinical to commercial applications will be achieved within a few months. We are gradually advancing this matter." Professor Wu Wenming told the reporter of People's Daily Health Channel.


What procedures are required for a nucleic acid test report? "Receiving specimens-recording-sampling-extraction-PCR amplification detection-issuing reports are six essential processes in the nucleic acid detection process. Taking 96 samples as an example, at present, it takes up to 10 minutes to complete the automatic cup sample addition on the market, and the extraction can be completed in as fast as 12 minutes. At present, the most critical speed-limiting step in COVID-19 detection is PCR amplification, but there is currently no substantial breakthrough in this step." Li Zhengkang told the reporter of People's Daily Health Channel that if the scientific research results of the "portable ultra-fast PCR instrument" can be successfully transformed as soon as possible, the nucleic acid detection efficiency of COVID-19 is expected to be greatly improved.


"In the next step, our team will further improve the speed of nucleic acid detection by combining the optimization of reagents and instruments on the premise of ensuring the accuracy of the test results." Professor Wu Wenming said.