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UFBA scientists develop test that detects coronavirus in 3 hours
The group made up of researchers from the Federal University of Bahia had already used the same equipment in groundbreaking research for detecting the Zika virus
By Estadão Conteúdo
access_time Feb 8, 2020, 5 p.m. – Published on Feb. 8, 2020, 4:59 p.m.
Coronavirus: the equipment is expected to be capable of analyzing over 90 samples monthly (Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters)
Salvador – Researchers at the Federal University of Bahia (UFBA) have found a faster way to identify the presence of the coronavirus in the body.
The 48-hour wait time for the diagnosis was reduced to 3 hours using a device called Real-Time. “We are happy with the results – it makes everything faster,” says virologist Gúbio Soares, coordinator of the research group.
The equipment, which costs BRL 150,000 and was imported from the United States in December last year to the University’s Virology Laboratory, is capable of verifying whether genetic material (RNA) from respiratory secretions contains the coronavirus gene.
Since there have been no cases of infection in Brazil, Soares says that substances formed by nucleotides – material that makes up the genetic code – were prepared to recognize genetic regions of the virus.
When the result is positive for coronavirus, the equipment’s screen displays a wavy appearance in the samples. Researchers can monitor the entire process in real time.
The samples are placed inside the equipment in 200-microliter microtubes – only 15 at a time. It is expected to be capable of analyzing over 90 samples monthly.
“We avoid analyzing a large number of tubes at the same time to avoid cross-contamination of the samples themselves, since they contain biological material” he explained.
The group, which is also made up of researchers Silvia Sardi and Rejane Hughes, had already used the same equipment in groundbreaking research for detecting the Zika virus.
The first proven diagnosis in Brazil was released by the laboratory on April 28, 2015 – until then, the Ministry of Health believed it to be a parvovirus infection.
This time, they also used scientific papers produced in China to guide the analyses. To save time in the diagnosis, the researchers’ main differential was to decide that the equipment would check the coronavirus genetic material only. The first tests were conducted last week.
“Our goal is to process the coronavirus directly and faster. We are not going to waste time on other viruses,” said Soares.
The researchers from Salvador did not even consider, for example, the possible interference of other viruses, such as HIV and Ebola. On Thursday, February 6, scientists from Wuhan, China, found that two drugs used to fight viruses also controlled the effects of the new coronavirus. Although dedicated to this research, Gubio Soares asks everyone to remain calm.
“I think it is important to say that it is not such a lethal or serious disease. There’s no need to be distressed during Carnival or anything,” he emphasized.
Learn how the coronavirus diagnosis is conducted using the Real-Time equipment:
1) Respiratory secretions are sampled from a suspected carrier and cooled to 4ºC.
2) Researchers extract the genetic material from the secretion and add the nucleotides that identify whether the coronavirus is present.
3) The test is ready three hours later.