For those anxious to know whether they’re infected with the coronavirus, the wait to be tested can be excruciating. The same goes for waiting for test results.
“Sam on my team got tested,” said Jared Polis, Colorado’s governor, recently. “Sam, what was it? Ten days? 11 days? 14 days. I mean that’s ridiculous.”
Experts contend the disease has spread faster than what labs can handle. Microsoft Corporation founder Bill Gates calls the current testing process worthless. But researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder think they’ve come up with one answer. A rapid, portable, saliva-based COVID-19 test. No need for nasal swabs or fancy lab equipment.
Just spit in a tube.
“And the results can easily be read by eye because our test changes colors from pink to yellow if you’re positive for SARS-2,” said Nick Meyerson, C.U. Boulder postdoctoral research fellow.
Much like a pregnancy test. It’s based on a technology called reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification or RT-LAMP. It was previously used to screen mosquitoes for the Zika virus. Samples are heated and added to mixtures which undergo a chemical reaction when the genetic material from the SARS virus is detected.
“They can set this up on a table in a parking lot as long as they have power and test people,” said Roy Parker, director of C.U. Boulder’s BioFrontiers Institute.
He said the test is geared towards detecting asymptomatic people who make up as many as 70 percent of coronavirus cases. Perfect, Parker believes, for use outside factories or football games. Arizona State University is targeting underserved communities with the same kind of test. University of California Berkeley is researching something similar.
“One of the great things about saliva is it’s pretty easy to collect,” said Jennifer Doudna, U.C. Berkeley professor. “We don’t need to have personnel in full personal protective equipment doing the collection.”
C.U. Boulder said its test is slightly less sensitive, more likely to produce false-negatives, than clinical lab tests but claims its 45-minute turnaround for results more than makes up for that. It’s awaiting U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, planning to begin commercial production, and testing students now, hoping…
“To continue to test them at certain rates during the semester to hopefully identify some asymptomatic people before they spread the disease and thereby limit the spread,” Parker said.
He thinks cheap, rapid tests are the future during this pandemic.
“We’re going to see these coming and we’re going to see them scaled up,” he said.
It could make a big difference, he argued, as we try to track and contain this very difficult disease.