Nigerian Institute of Medical Research (NIMR) has unveiled the first SARS-CoV-2 Isothemal Molecular Assay (SIMA) kit in Nigeria to boost COVID-19 testing capacity.
Director General of NIMR, Prof. Babatunde Salako, said the testing kit was developed to ease the current challenges that required heavy laboratory and expensive equipment to function.
According to Salako, SIMA testing kit is a fast and sensitive point of carebtest for COVID-19 infection using molecular technique that is reliable.
“As a foremost research institute in Nigeria with a mandate to conduct research into diseases of public health importance like COVID-19 pandemic which at present a difficult management challenge for scientists.
“While no effective vaccine has been develop till date, case detection remains the surest way of controlling the pandemic.
“Seeing that molecular laboratories remain limited in number and remote areas are at disadvantaged in getting tested and limited testing centres.
“Our researchers once again swung into action to develop a point of care molecular test for COVID-19 to ease the challenges of getting a molecular laboratory which requires huge fund.
“The Isothemal used for our point of care testing cost 9500 dollars which is cheaper than the regular real time PCR equipment which cost about 100,000 dollars.
“This test reagent can be produced in country with 80 per cent to 90 per cent locally sourced material,” he said.
He disclosed that a NIMR research team, led by Dr Chika Onwuamah, a Senior Research Scientist, developed a molecular test for coronavirus that gives test result in less than 40 minutes.
He appreciated the efforts Fate Foundation, for supporting the research with N20million through its Fate Philanthropy Coalition for COVID-19 Support.
“We are very grateful for the support given to the institute to develop the assay which is not only first of its kind in the country but also in Africa.
“The objective of the grant was to develop a fast multiplex isothermal assay for SARS-CoV-2 while we also designed and evaluated primers and probes for multiplex.
“Work is currently ongoing on a simple release reagent to simplify the RNA extraction step and the assay development procedure involve both bioinformatic analysis designing the primers and probes.
“To date we have a working assay guaranted to test 100 copies/ml of SARs-CoV-2 RNA, as we continue to improve on the detection limit,” he said.
Leading the research work was Dr Onwuamah, who said that SIMA was far cheaper and faster compared to PCR which required a lot of power and goes through different temperature.
“The difference between the PCR used in Molecular lab and this is that PCR goes through different circle of temperature which requires more a lot of power for heating and cooling.
“SIMA works at one temperature and that is why it is called isothermal which makes it far cheaper and faster,” he said.
Speaking on the duration of the research, the Senior Researcher said the project started around May, noting that there was a bit delay due to COVID-19 induced lockdown.
Onwuamah, however, called for more support to aid scientists in the country to carryout research work on public health emergency such as COVID-19.