Rapid nucleic acid amplification tests developed by HKUMed to detect the Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in patients are now being used by public health care laboratories in more than 70 countries and territories. Countries like Egypt, Cambodia and Nepal have successfully identified confirmed cases with these tests.
The tests are based on real-time reverse transcriptase-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR), which aims to detect viral RNA in patients. Genetic contents are extracted from the tested samples and a portion is amplified using virus-specific primers that recognise unique viral RNA sequences. These are then reported by a DNA probe. This approach is highly sensitive and can detect minute amounts of viral RNA from samples within two hours.
The tests were developed in January by Dr Daniel Chu Ka-wing, Professor Leo Poon Lit-man and Professor Malik Peiris from the Division of Public Health Laboratory Sciences, School of Public Health. They developed two primer/probe sets within six days after China released the genomic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 on January 10, and shared its findings widely for free ,. The reference materials and reagents have been freely provided to overseas laboratories so they can prepare for this epidemic and identify COVID-19 patients early.
HKUMed’s School of Public Health is one of WHO Reference Laboratories for COVID-19 and it has been receiving samples from all over the world and providing testing on COVID-19.