ICMR counters CSIR claim on dry swab test efficiency

The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) has countered claims made by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) that its dry swab test method is effective even as the latter is awaiting approval since past four months.

In a series of tweets after HT reported CSIR director general Dr Shekhar Mande’s allegations, ICMR clarified the process and how the dry swab test did not qualify scientific evaluation.

“Scientific evaluation proved that despite initial promises, swabs collected from clinic attendees & transported in a dry test tube environment w/o VTM for RT-PCR & skipping RNA extraction in the laboratory, is not effective for diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2,” tweeted ICMR through its official handle.

ICMR through other two tweets stated, “The Council is receiving applications on numerous diagnostic innovations from across the country. These innovations are validated through an established network of institutions. Novel claims on clinical approaches for management of COVID-19 are examined by ICMR research groups and task force, which evaluate them for their appropriateness/suitability. If found useful, we inform the clinicians through updating management guidelines.”

During his talks at a lecture organised by Pune International Centre (PIC) on Tuesday, Mande had termed delay in approving the dry swab test as “shame” while asserting that bureaucratic delay is hindering Science in the country.

The CSIR-Centre for Cellular and Molecular Biology (CCMB) had announced dry swab in June though lack of approval from ICMR blocked the entry of new method, which according to Mande, could have saved Rs 100 crore a day.

The dry swab tests, according to Mande, have established its efficacy in multiple laboratories including Centre for DNA Fingerprinting and Diagnostics (CDFD), Hyderabad, IISER Berhampur (Odisha).

“What we needed in the country is to get science rid of all the bureaucracy that exists. In fact one thing that hinders science in India is our bureaucracy. We had announced dry swab in June and yet on today’s date, we don’t have regulatory approval for one reason or the other. It’s a shame,” Mande had said.

The dry swab method is the same as RT-PCR except it does not require nasopharyngeal swabs to be immersed in Viral Transport Medium (VTM). Under the RT-PCT test, nasopharyngeal collected from patients are immersed in viral transform medium followed by RNA extraction. The RNA then is subjected to RTPCR, which is considered gold standard across the world.

Under the new method, scientists of CSIR-CCMB have generated a simplified protocol where dry swabs are collected and directly used for RT-PCR. “This method has been established to have no loss of sensitivity and is on par with the current gold standard of testing,” Director Rakesh Mishra was quoted by CSIR on its website. Established in 1942, CSIR is an autonomous research and development organisation with Prime Minister Narendra Modi being its president. – Hindustan Times

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