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New Method for High-Quality RNA Extraction to Enable Global Distributed COVID-19 Diagnostics

Rustem F. Ismagilov
Ethel Wilson Bowles and Robert Bowles Professor of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering; Director of the Jacobs Institute for Molecular Engineering for Medicine

Professor Rustem Ismagilov is exploring how to overcome a major impediment to rapid, inexpensive, point-of-care testing – efficient RNA extraction that does not require a centrifuge – by exploiting RNA purification strategies recently developed by his lab. Up to half of all people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, rendering screening and containment strategies based solely on clinical presentation impossible. There is therefore an urgent need for a universally accessible, rapid diagnostic with accurate, reliable results that can be deployed at an unprecedented global scale. This diagnostic must be inexpensive, sensitive, robust to user error, scalable, and capable of operating with high accuracy in limited resource settings (LRS). Antibody-based tests cannot meet this demand because they fail to detect early infections when viral shedding is greatest. Only RNA-based assays can fill this need, yet the diagnostics field has struggled for decades to make these complex tests compatible with point-of-contact settings. The RNA extraction step is the key bottleneck. This step must be greatly simplified and parallelized while maintaining (or exceeding) the performance achieved by trained personnel in high-complexity clinical laboratories. The Ismagilov lab aims to solve this challenge using its recently developed in-house technologies that improve RNA extraction quality while reducing equipment requirements. They plan to demonstrate that they can greatly improve the purity, yield, and concentration of extracted SARS-CoV-2 RNA without the need for centrifugation – the aspect of the process that most limits its wide scale deployment. The team already has preliminary data showing the feasibility of its approach for efficiently extracting SARS-CoV-2 RNA. Their goal is to provide a scalable, inexpensive, high- performance SARS-CoV-2 RNA sample-preparation technology that can be used for SARS-CoV-2 testing outside clinical labs at a global scale.

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