A new coronavirus test has the potential to produce results in about 40 minutes, at least six times faster than the test used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Similarly to the tests that are already available, this new one uses data that’s collected from a nasal swab. Using CRISPR, a technology that can hone in on specific strings of DNA for editing, the diagnostic targets specific genetic sequences. Instead of targeting either the gene region from the World Health Organization’s test or the CDC’s test, it targets both.
For the test to be deemed positive, there must be a detection of both genes and a presumptive positive is if either gene is detected. Results are delivered on a lateral flow strip. The readout is similar to how an at-home pregnancy test works, so it’s relatively easy to interpret.
Testing has been the wrench in America’s response to the new coronavirus outbreak. At first, there weren’t enough tests, then tests produced faulty results and now that improvements have been made, lag times in receiving results have left people waiting days to know if they’re infected.
Over the past 40 years, the world has had to deal with at least seven emerging viruses: HIV, SARS, MERS, H1N1, Ebola, Zika and now a new coronavirus named SARS-CoV-2. While each virus was unique, they shared a common problem.
“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 University of California, San Francisco, and Mammoth Biosciences, who are spearheading the new test’s development, wrote in a study published in Nature Biotechnology on Thursday.
The United States is experiencing the largest outbreak of a new coronavirus worldwide and as of Thursday morning, 639,733 people have tested positive. Once confined to people who recently traveled to China and their spouses, the outbreak is now being driven by community transmission.
People across the country have complained of long turnaround times for receiving the results of their tests. Contributing to the long wait times are the lack of on-site laboratories and machines, as well as, personnel to process the influx in samples. As of Thursday morning, more than 3.2 million people have been tested in the United States, according to the tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
While some people could receive their results in 24 hours, others have reported waiting 10 days and even well-known people are experiencing delays, such as Kentucky Senator Rand Paul who didn’t receive his result for six days.
“There is an urgent public health need for rapid diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the researchers wrote in the study.