At-Home Saliva Test Can Spot COVID Variants

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FRIDAY, Aug. 6, 2021 (HealthDay News) — Spit and scan. That’s all you have to do, and in less than an hour, you can not only find out if you have COVID-19 but what variant you have, all without leaving your home.

This is the hope and promise of a new saliva-based COVID-19 test that is currently under development.

“Several at-home tests are available for telling you whether you have COVID-19, but none of them test for variants,” said study author Dr. Xiao Tan, a clinical fellow at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University, in Boston.

There are no plans to commercialize the test yet, but a new proof-of-concept study shows that the technology works as well as the gold standard PCR tests and could cost as little as $3 per test, which is a lot cheaper than currently available COVID-19 home tests.

The test, called Minimally Instrumented SHERLOCK (miSHERLOCK), is based on CRISPR gene-targeting technology. It only requires off-the-shelf chemical agents, a 3D printer and commonly available equipment.

By contrast, COVID-19 tests based on PCR technology require highly specialized equipment and can take roughly four hours for results. If a sample were to be tested for a specific variant using PCR technology, it would have to be genetically sequenced, which takes even more time and resources, Tan explained.

There are currently several at-home COVID-19 tests available. Some tests require samples be sent to a lab for analysis, while others provide results at home using various technologies such as test cards and processing fluid. No PCR tests can be processed at home.

So, researchers at the Wyss Institute, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and several Boston-area hospitals collaborated to develop the new test.

For the study, the researchers tested saliva samples from 27 people with COVID-19 and 21 people without the virus. The test identified the virus about 96% of the time, which is on par with the PCR tests. What’s more, the test detected three different variants of COVID-19: the United Kingdom, South African, and Brazilian variants.

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