ROSSELLA TERCATIN / CELIA JEAN
British company diagnostics.ai, whose R&D is entirely based in Herzliya, is already providing labs in the UK and the US with their advance diagnostic technique employing artificial intelligence.
FILE PHOTO: Nurse Jeff Gates processes a patient sample at a drive-through testing clinic for coronavirus, flu and RSV, currently by appointment for employees at UW Medical Center Northwest in Seattle, Washington, U.S. March 9, 2020 / (photo credit: REUTERS/LINDSEY WASSON)
Israeli researchers are at the forefront of medical innovation to offer new solutions in the fight against the novel coronavirus outbreak.
British company diagnostics.ai, whose research and development is entirely based in Herzliya, is already providing labs in the UK and US with their advanced diagnostic technique, employing artificial intelligence for faster and more accurate results, Brian Glenville, chairman of diagnostics.ai and former head of heart surgery at Hadassah-University Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post.
“In the old days, if you went to the doctor with a chest infection, they would ask you to cough into a pot and send the specimen to a laboratory, which would put it on a plate to grow,” he said. “After 48 hours they would put some antibiotic discs next to it, and another 48 hours later they would tell you which one worked for that bug.”
“Several years [later], tests called Real Time PCR or Q-PCR came in,” he added. “They look at the nuclear content, the DNA or RNA, in the bacteria or the virus.”
To perform the test, a biological specimen of the patients, for example, saliva or blood, is put into a machine called thermal cycler, which heats and cools the material 30 or 40 times until the DNA or RNA fragments in the specimen have split. The fragments then join to a molecule of fluorescent light.
“That’s how you find out what is the content of your biological solutions are,” Glenville said. “The problem is that the answer comes out as a curve on a graph, which means it requires an analysis by a skilled medical technician.”
The requirement for an expert to analyze the results of the test might not be particularly challenging if the number of tests performed remains low. But when hundreds, if not thousands, of tests are needed – as in the case of the current emergency – tiredness and other human factors, including the risk for the technicians to get infected themselves, represents an obstacle.
As an alternative, there are kits made by manufactures that include whatever is necessary to execute the tests and give the answer. But they are expensive and inflexible, which means that if the virus mutates, their technology won’t be suitable.
“They are also not as automatic and not as accurate as they could be,” Glenville said.
What diagnostics.ai ha
s developed is truly automatic and can analyze any virus or bacteria.
Once the biological specimen is analyzed, which takes 40 minutes to an hour, the results are almost instantaneous, and they are fed to the hospital information system right away.
The technology was studied by one of the largest virology units in Europe, the West of Scotland Specialist Virology Centre, comparing the results of diagnostics.ai with those by their best technicians.
As explained in an article published in the Journal of Clinical Virology, they were found superior in terms of accuracy.
The company’s technology is generic, which means it does not work only for a specific virus but for any virus or bacteria. It is currently used for infections. But diagnostics.ai is planning to employ it for cancer and genetic expressions and any other form of testing to analyze material containing DNA or RNA.
“One of the laboratories in a large London hospital just asked us to increase their volumes tenfold, and I think it is only the beginning,” Glenville said.
A new and more efficient method to diagnose the coronavirus was successfully tested by Israeli researchers at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Rambam Health Care Campus. The new testing method will dramatically increase the rate at which tests can be done for the deadly virus, it was announced on Thursday.
The current testing method in Israel and most of the world has been to only focus on people with specific symptoms. This new testing method enables the testing of people with no symptoms and for dozens of tests to be carried out at once, ultimately accelerating efforts in curbing the virus.
“This experiment conducted by Technion and Rambam researchers is complex and under normal circumstances would take months,” Technion president Prof. Uri Sivan said. “This is a remarkable example of the mobilization of an outstanding team in a time of crisis. The initial experiment was completed in less than four days.”
The current rate of testing in Israel, done by the common PCR method (polymerase chain reaction), is about 1,200 a day. And each one must be examined individually, which takes several hours, causing bottlenecks in testing and slowing efforts to curb the virus.
The Rambam Clinical Microbiology Laboratory is only able to test 200 COVID-19 samples a day.
Now, molecular testing for the virus, using the new pooling method, can be done by combining samples taken from 32 or 64 patients, enabling simultaneous testing of dozens of samples. In rare cases where a positive case is found in a joint sample, only then will each of the specific samples be tested individually.
“Even when we conducted a joint examination of 64 samples in which only one was a positive carrier, the system identified that there was a positive sample,” said Prof. Roy Kishony, head of the research group at the Technion’s the Faculty of Biology.
“This is not a breakthrough but a demonstration of the effectiveness of using the existing method and even the existing equipment to significantly increase the volume of samples tested per day,” he said.