Streamlining RNA extraction for widespread COVID‑19 diagnostic testing

Chou, Leo | $20,027

Ontario University of Toronto 2020 NSERC Alliance COVID-19 Grant

The ongoing COVID‑19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of widespread diagnostic testing in tracing and containing viral transmission. A major bottleneck to widespread testing during this outbreak, however, has been the global shortage of commercial RNA extraction kits. These kits are used to extract the SARS-CoV-2 viral genome from patient samples before testing, and are an essential component of the majority of nucleic-acid detection assays. Shortage of RNA extraction kits has critically delayed testing in several regions globally and led to outbreaks. Canada is especially at risk because it lacks sufficient domestic supply of RNA extraction kit manufacturers, and sources most of them from other countries. Reliance on internationally sourced solutions runs greater risk of a supply bottleneck, especially during periods of an infection outbreak. In this proposal, the Chou lab is partnering with Luna Nanotech, a Toronto-based molecular diagnostics company, to develop a new class of nucleic-acid probes that streamlines RNA extraction and detection, providing three improvements over existing solutions: (i) simpler and faster protocol that does not require specialty hardware, (ii) enhanced detection sensitivity for downstream assays via target-specific enrichment, and (iii) higher cost-efficiency and scalability. We will develop and validate this technology using synthetic RNA, deactivated viruses, and patient samples, providing a well-validated reagent for clinical use. The outcome of this proposal will broadly support nucleic-acid testing technologies from centralized RT-PCR testing, point-of-care assays, to next-generating sequencing efforts via improved testing capacity and enhanced accuracy. Following completion, Luna Nanotech will also aim to integrate this new RNA extraction technology with their existing pipeline of isothermal nucleic-acid detection assay for point-of-care testing.

With funding from the Government of Canada

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