What is colorimetric loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP)? How does it improve on existing molecular diagnostics?
LAMP is an isothermal amplification method that detects DNA or RNA without the need for thermal cycling inherent in tools like PCR. Although PCR is a fantastic technique, it requires an instrument that can rapidly heat and cool samples. Colorimetric LAMP requires no sophisticated instruments because the entire reaction is performed at a single temperature. In addition, the colorimetric component means that you can see whether or not the reaction has worked at a glance.
How is LAMP more portable and easier to use in field diagnostics?
LAMP can be performed by one person with a cup of water, but the ability to apply the test in this simple format depends entirely on the application. For example, if a research group is testing mosquitoes for malaria, the insect sample must be processed before LAMP can be performed. Even if some processing is required, the ability to perform LAMP with limited equipment at the point of sample collection is a major advantage over traditional PCR. Furthermore, heating the assay to a single temperature can be accomplished using two AA batteries, giving LAMP even greater field utility. For those who have never run PCR, LAMP is an easy way to perform field tests for applications such as agriculture using only a pipetting step and a visual color determination.
How can LAMP serve as a public health tool?
When LAMP was first introduced in the early 2000s, it was clear that it could serve public health needs, aiding surveillance and monitoring efforts. LAMP is particularly useful in settings without the infrastructure and support needed to access molecular diagnostics. In this sense, it is a good way to bring genomics to new places. Though the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the power of PCR-based clinical lab diagnostics, it also highlighted the difficulties of large-scale testing. During this period of high demand, mobile testing sites with limited equipment instead used LAMP to meet COVID-19 testing needs.
What is the most exciting application of LAMP?
In my opinion, the most exciting current application of LAMP is home testing. There are many infectious diseases—influenza, strep throat, RSV, and more—that could have LAMP-based home diagnostic tests. This would limit the need for potentially infectious people to enter hospitals or clinics, reducing the risk of infecting high-risk or compromised patients.
What does the future of LAMP look like to you?
New England Biolabs is predominantly an enzyme manufacturer, so we think in terms of reagents and ways to increase their robustness and accessibility. LAMP is a validated tool in today’s diagnostics toolbox. Now that this platform exists, I think we will see its range of applications continue to expand. Some recent applications I’ve seen include testing cannabis plants for viruses and parasites and testing agricultural runoff for contaminants, both of which were previously difficult to analyze in the field. LAMP enables the testing of more people, plants, and animals in public health monitoring programs. In this way, LAMP supports public health professionals in meeting the ever-increasing need for accessible, field-ready tests.