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New COVID-19 Tech to Deliver Faster, More Accurate Test Results

Image Credits: Murdoch University, Press Release

The latest research from Murdoch University and the Perron Institute is paving the way for the development of a new technological screening platform that will rapidly and accurately detect COVID-19, without compromising quality.

A medical device company’s Sentinel saliva sampling approach involves sensitive molecular processes and ultra-high throughput technology for screening potentially infectious, asymptomatic carriers. It can run up to four thousand samples per hour, with results reported within 25 minutes. The latest data published in the Nature journal Scientific Reports shows 98 per cent accuracy in identifying the SARS-CoV-2 virus in samples.

Senior author, Professor Sulev Koks, Head of Genetic Epidemiology Research at Murdoch University and Western Australia’s Perron Institute is among the scientists and others contributing. He is collaborating with local specialists from various institutes, including the University of Western Australia and further afield in the United Kingdom and Spain. The key overseas organisations evaluating the technology are the Lancs LAMP Laboratory in Preston, UK and Biodonostia Health Research Institute in San Sebastian, Spain.

Professor Koks noted that while present testing methods are accurate, they are not capable of providing a result to people with COVID-19 that have no symptoms. Additionally, PCR testing puts a strain on the health system as health staff need to undertake rigorous training to obtain results.

It was also noted that while the diagnostic gold standard RT-PCR test accurately detects viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19, it lacks sufficient speed for efficient, large-scale routine surveillance screening and quarantine applications. The rapid antigen tests (RAT) are easier to use but not sufficiently sensitive in detecting the virus in infected people who are contagious but have no symptoms. The viral load samples from pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic people can take several days to reach sufficient levels for detecting infection.

“PCR results take hours and throughput is, at most, a few thousand samples processed per instrument per day. Also, nasopharyngeal PCR sampling requires trained personnel and has decreased participant acceptance if multiple tests are required within a short period.”

Effective viral surveillance to contain outbreaks requires frequent testing with more sensitive assays, particularly as new variants arise. The new screening technology, that will identify infectious patients sooner and eliminate the threat of unwanted community transmission, will help hasten the pandemic’s closure.

The proposed large-scale and convenient saliva testing platform combines accuracy and scalability to mitigate the risk of viral transmission as restrictions are lifted and to guard against future threats. It would make frequent testing feasible in complementing vaccines to contain the spread of highly infectious pandemic agents such as COVID-19. Further validation of the medical device company’s rapid, ultra-sensitive Sentinel screening system is continuing.

The first authors of the recent publication are Robert Dewhurst and Tatjana Heinrich (Perron Institute and Avicena Systems), and the other authors are Paul Watt and Paul Ostergaard (Avicena Systems), Jose Maria Marimon (Biodonostia Institute), Mariana Moreira and Philip Houldsworth (Lancs LAMP Laboratory), Jack Rudrum (Perron Institute) and David Wood (UWA).

The medical device company’s pilot Sentinel system was supported by grants from the WA Department of Health, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Industry, and a Modern Manufacturing Initiative grant from the Australian Government Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources.

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