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Coronavirus test breakthrough could return results much faster

Published Apr 24th, 2020 7:06PM EDT
new coronavirus test
Image: Sebastiao Moreira/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

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  • A new coronavirus testing method returns results faster, and more efficiently than traditional tests.
  • The new method wouldn’t require that samples be sent away for testing and could speed up the rate at which results are confirmed. 
  • Health experts estimate that the true number of coronavirus cases is far higher than the reported figures. 
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A lack of rapid coronavirus testing is still a major problem in many countries, including areas of the United States. Getting the tests and testing supplies has been a chore for doctors for a number of reasons, but a new paper published in the Journal of Molecular Diagnostics suggests that a new method of testing could result in faster tests and greater testing capacity.

Led by Jin-Soo Maeng, Ph.D. at the Center for Convergent Research of Emerging Virus Infection at the Korean Food Research Institute, the team of scientists developed a test that is more efficient in confirming the presence of the novel coronavirus. The tests can detect as few as 100 copies of the novel coronavirus RNA.

What makes this development so significant is that this type of test could be carried out in facilities without advanced testing hardware. Right now, many coronavirus tests are sent great distances to be tested in labs equipped with the right tools, but this test could mitigate the need for such shipments.

“Isothermal nucleic acid amplification tests such as RT-LAMP have the potential to be used at the point-of-care with sensitivity comparable to that of the current RT-qPCR tests,” Dr. Maeng said in a statement. “Although the proper extraction of sample RNA is still required, our RT-LAMP method has the potential to be run in decentralized test facilities to provide faster test services to more people.”

Put simply, a faster test that doesn’t have to be sent away could return results in a fraction of the time that many current testing methods take. It’s a streamlined testing option that, if it were widely adopted, could yield more accurate infection numbers and help public health officials track the spread of the virus with greater confidence.

Recent estimates of the true number of coronavirus cases in places like the United States suggest there are perhaps 20 times as many cases than have been confirmed by doctors. This is largely due to a lack of testing and the urging of medical professionals that possible coronavirus patients with minor symptoms remain home for the safety of others.

Painting a clearer picture of how the outbreak has spread could be beneficial not only in the short term but in planning a response to a future outbreak of a similar nature. There’s no guarantee that this new testing method will be widely adopted, of course, but the research may inspire new breakthroughs that could speed up tests in the United States and abroad.

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