A new coronavirus test could potentially produce results in about 40 minutes — six times faster than the test currently used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The test is similar to currently existing ones that use data collected from a nasal swab to test for coronavirus.
Researchers at the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) and scientists at Mammoth Biosciences laid out a method using CRISPR to detect coronavirus from nose or throat swabs. CRISPR is a technology that singles out specific strings of DNA for editing.
A swab is used to collect from the nose or throat of a patient. The genetic material is isolated and amplified in a test tube with a liquid solution, where CRISPR then gets to work. How it differs from the World Health Organization’s (WHO) test and CDC’s? The WHO test looks for what’s known as the E gene and the CDC’s test looks for the coronavirus N gene — the UCSF/Crispr coronavirus test is designed to spot both.
A positive test will result when both genes are detected and a presumptive positive will result if either gene is detected. Results are delivered on a lateral flow strip, similar to how an at-home pregnancy works. The test produces results faster and with less labor than traditional tests. However, STAT reports the test could produce false-negative “slightly more than existing coronavirus tests.”
Still, the new test has the potential to combat several problems present in America’s testing endeavors. Among these, it could help with test shortages across the nation, making proper testing accessible for many. It would also shorten the turnaround time for test results.
“Each time, a lack of rapid, accessible and accurate molecular diagnostic testing has hindered the public health response to the emerging viral threat,” researchers from the UCSF and Mammoth Biosciences, who are spearheading the new test’s development, wrote in a study published in Nature Biotechnology.
“What this moment has shown is the importance of a diagnostic like this,” Trevor Martin, Mammoth’s co-founder and chief executive officer, said per STAT. “I think people are surprised that we don’t have the ability to do extremely specific, sensitive, rapid diagnostics in 2020.”
The test is being submitted for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) next week. Earlier this week, the first saliva test for coronavirus was approved by the FDA.