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New, Portable COVID-19 Saliva-Based Testing Device to Deliver Results in as Little as 20 Minutes

By LabMedica International staff writers
Posted on 28 Sep 2020
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Image: New, Portable COVID-19 Saliva-Based Testing Device to Deliver Results in as Little as 20 Minutes (Photo courtesy of Charlie Leight/ASU Now)
Image: New, Portable COVID-19 Saliva-Based Testing Device to Deliver Results in as Little as 20 Minutes (Photo courtesy of Charlie Leight/ASU Now)
Researchers at Arizona State University (ASU Tempe, AZ, USA) are developing a new, portable saliva-based testing device that will deliver results in as little as 20 minutes.

In May, researchers at ASU’s Biodesign Institute produced the Western United States’ first FDA-approved saliva-based COVID-19 test - one of only a handful available in the country - with test results delivered in 24–48 hours. The team is now building a new, portable saliva-based testing device, also referred to as a point-of-need test, which will allow users to easily provide a saliva sample on a computer chip that will quickly detect whether the virus is present. The project is being funded by USD 5.2 million in CARES Act dollars from the governor’s office and USD 860,000 from the Arizona Department of Health Services.

The new rapid saliva test detects the viral RNA and combines the ease of use and speed of the newly FDA-approved antigen tests with greater accuracy similar to PCR-based RNA tests. If the virus is detected, a strong, green fluorescent signal is generated on the device. Also, unlike the PCR method, which needs a few hours of time because of several steps performed at different temperature cycles, this device is being designed to have all of the reactions performed at the same temperature.

A key point of the project will be mobility. Researchers envision a "plug and play" cartridge system that could be used by the ASU Biodesign Institute saliva-testing robotics system or implemented by practitioners without needing extensive training. By keeping the device small and portable, it can be rapidly employed and scaled in case of a surge in infection and done so locally and in a distributed fashion.

The ultimate goal is to have these devices accessible in public places such as doctors’ offices, workplaces and other densely populated areas. Through early detection, preventative measures can minimize contact risk and ensure safe spaces. Although the project is expected to generate working prototypes in six months and apply for FDA emergency-use authorization approval for COVID-19 testing, the team has already worked to align their technology with several companies for scalable production.

“We are of the view that this virus will be with us in some capacity for the foreseeable future; therefore, we need to develop the most sophisticated tools in order to help manage it,” said ASU President Michael M. Crow.

“Ultimately, we want to produce something easy to use so anyone could ‘spit on a chip’ while waiting for results for a few minutes and then be cleared for everyday activities or events, or rapidly isolated or ID’d as infected,” said Mark Hayes, one of the ASU professors leading the efforts to develop the new COVID-19 testing device.

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