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NUS scientists developing COVID-19 vaccine trial and detection test kits

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Scientists from NUS have been working on understanding the virus and finding a cure to the COVID-19 virus. The latest development sees the scientists developing a vaccine trial and rapid detection tests kits.

This vaccine trial will be carried out by providing the vaccination to healthy volunteers and they will be observed for side effects, such as effects to the immune system and whether it gives them immunity against COVID-19.

Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) is working together with the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), a Norway-based public-private coalition that develops vaccines to stops epidemics, for the development of the vaccine trial.

Professor Wang Linfa, Director of the Duke-NUS merging Infectious Diseases Programmme, said that this collaboration will see efficient results with the expertise of CEPI for having created several vaccination trial platforms and the production of vaccinations. With the approach taken to fighting COVID-19 this would prove effective for starting on the trials more quickly.

Prof Wang added that locations such as Wuhan, which have been gravely hit by the virus, will have to vaccinate everyone. This includes individuals who are at high risks of contracting the disease, such as healthcare workers and airport staff.

Along with the vaccination trial, rapid detection kits are being worked upon as well. It takes time for identifying and determining if an individual has contracted the virus. The first screening and confirmation take between 12 to 24 hours, using conventional methods of genome sequencing.

Assistant Professor Shao Huilin from NUS Biomedical Engineering is leading a team for adjusting the enVision test kit, developed in 2018, to be able to detect the COVID-19 virus within 30 minutes.

EnVision had the capability of performing specific and sensitive screening and detection of different viruses. The range of diseases which can be detected include infectious diseases, high-prevalence infections, and various forms of cancers and genetic diseases.

Tests can be conducted at the point-of-care, such as in community clinics or hospital wards, to ensure that the disease monitoring or treatment can be provided in a timely manner for achieving better health results.

These test kits also provide visible results, such as assay changing from colourless to brown when in contact with the virus. The strength of the colour is proportional to the amount of pathogen that is present.

Other work on the development of rapid detection kits include one from Acumen Research Laboratories, which has created a diagnostic test kit prototype that can detect the COVID-19 virus within two hours.

Dr Ong Siew Hwa, director and chief scientist and an alumna of NUS Science, leads this organisation. This test kit is able to identify a set of genetic red flags that can identify COVID-19 virus form other viruses.

Samples are collected from a patient’s lungs or cough mucus and processed through a polymerase chain reaction (PCR). PCR is used to amplify DNA for analysis and works, based on temperature cycling which involves heating and cooling to create multiple copies of the DNA.

Asst Prof Shao said that the team hopes to complete the development and validation of enVision to have the capability of detecting COVID-19.

The current detection kits mainly depend on PCR for detecting the virus, which requires several preparations steps and temperature cycling.

“The enVision technology is designed through a completely different assay mechanism. It obviates many of these preparation steps, and operates entirely at room temperature, to enable rapid and sensitive detection,” said Asst Prof Shao.

Previously, OpenGov had reported on the successful culturation of the COVID-19 virus by a team of scientists and researchers in Singapore.

A collaborative effort of clinicians and scientists from Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS), SingHealth Duke-NUS Academic Medical Centre, Singapore General Hospital (SGH), National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), and Ministry of Health (MOH) have successfully cultured the coronavirus from the clinical sample of an infected patient.

Singapore is currently the third country in the world to culture the virus. This step forward is crucial to understanding the virus and aid diagnosis efforts.

The cultured virus will be used for creating new diagnostic efforts, monitoring potential mutation and testing for potential vaccine and drugs.


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