A major challenge in controlling the COVID-19 pandemic is the high false-negative rate of the commonly used RT-PCR methods for SARS-CoV-2 detection in clinical samples. Accurate detection is particularly challenging in samples with low viral loads that are below the limit of detection (LoD) of standard one-or two-step RT-PCR methods. In this study, we implemented a three-step approach for SARS-CoV-2 detection and quantification that employs reverse transcription, targeted cDNA preamplification, and nano-scale qPCR based on a commercially available microfluidic chip. Using SARS-CoV-2 synthetic RNA and plasmid controls, we demonstrate that the addition of a preamplification step enhances the LoD of this microfluidic RT-qPCR by 1000-fold, enabling detection below 1 copy/µL. We applied this method to analyze 182 clinical NP swab samples previously diagnosed using a standard RT-qPCR protocol (91 positive, 91 negative) and demonstrate reproducible and quantitative detection of SARS-CoV-2 over five orders of magnitude (<1 to 106 viral copies/µL). Crucially, we detect SARS-CoV-2 with relatively low viral load estimates (<1 to 40 viral copies/µL) in 17 samples with negative clinical diagnosis, indicating a potential false-negative rate of 18.7% by clinical diagnostic procedures. In summary, this three-step nano-scale RT-qPCR method can robustly detect SARS-CoV-2 in samples with relatively low viral loads (<1 viral copy/µL) and has the potential to reduce the false-negative rate of standard RT-PCR-based diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2 and other viral infections.
- Viral RNA
- Viral load
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Chemical Engineering (miscellaneous)
- Process Chemistry and Technology