August 13, 2020
Recent epidemic events such as Zika in Southeast Asia and Latin-America in 2016, Ebola in West Africa in 2013–2015, and pandemic Influenza A/H1N1/2009 have clearly showed the urgent need for inexpensive, portable, and easy-to-use diagnostic systems that can be effectively deployable to address epidemic episodes. These portable diagnostic systems have been mainly viewed as solutions for underprivileged, remote places. and/or for catastrophic scenarios. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has broadsided countries around the globe with only a few such as South Korea, China, Singapore, and Taiwan showing an ability to deploy massive efforts for rapid and accurate detection of positive infection cases. The swift and massive testing of thousands of possibly infected subjects has been an important component of the strategy of these countries that has helped to effectively reduce the spread of COVID-19 virus among their populations. And yet, most nations are still struggling to implement massive testing. Current testing methods have exhibited important limitations in widespread reach, flexibility, cost-effectiveness, and scalability during this pandemic.
Through the last two pandemic events involving influenza A/H1N1/2009 and COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended the reverse transcription quantitative polymerase chain reaction or RT-qPCR as the gold standard for official detection of positive cases. Without any doubt, nucleic acid amplification, and particularly RT-qPCR, is the most reliable technique for the early and accurate detection of viral diseases. Unfortunately, conducting RT-qPCR diagnostics often depends on access to centralized laboratory facilities for testing. To resolve this limitation, several different versions of compact PCR platforms have been described recently in the scientific literature. Unfortunately, most of these devices have not yet reached the market. During epidemic emergencies, resourcing of incompletely developed technologies is impractical, and the use of commercially available diagnostic platforms becomes the first and arguably the most cost-efficient line of defense.
Only recently, several miniaturized PCR machines become commercially available. One of them, the miniPCR, reached the international market in 2015. The most recent version of this compact PCR machine has an approximate cost of $800 USD as compared to $3000 USD for a conventional PCR thermocycler. Several papers have documented the value of the miniPCR® system as a portable and robust diagnostic tool. Recently, a comparison of the performance of the miniPCR and a commercial thermal cycler for the identification of artificial Zika and Ebola genetic sequences has been published. An experiments using a wide variety of primers sets and template concentrations revealed no differences in performance between either thermal cycler type. The commercial availability, low price, portability, and user friendliness of the miniPCR makes it an attractive and tangible solution that effectively brings PCR analysis to the point-of-care. A present study demonstrate the convenience of using the miniPCR for the detection and amplification of synthetic samples of SARS-CoV-2, the causal viral agent of the current COVID-19 pandemic.
González-González E, Trujillo-de Santiago G, Lara-Mayorga IM, Martínez-Chapa SO, Alvarez MM (2020) Portable and accurate diagnostics for COVID-19: Combined use of the miniPCR thermocycler and a well-plate reader for SARS-CoV-2 virus detection. PLoS ONE 15(8): e0237418. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0237418