Coronavirus variants continue to cause concern as vaccines are rolled out.
The so-called UK variant is more contagious and other variants may cause more serious illness or be more resistant to the COVID vaccines currently in use.
Identifying the variants is complicated and time consuming, but a team of researchers have just come up with a new test to dramatically speed things up.
Professor David Alland, director of the Institute for Public Health Research at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School and chief of infectious diseases at Rutgers Medical School, said the main way to find out if a COVID variant is circulating is to sequence them. genomes of the virus, which can take three to five days.
“So we had to find a faster way to screen for strains that might be variants,” he said.
Alland said his team has developed a new test that takes just over an hour to complete.
The test is the first to use “sloppy molecular beacon probes,” which are highly sensitive and specific DNA sequences used to detect frequent mutations in organisms.
He said rapid testing for COVID variants could help public health officials recognize transmission hot spots, so that rapid containment measures can be taken.
“This can be very useful in identifying households or people who need to be specially quarantined or monitored more closely,” he said.
He said the test performed well with clinical samples in the initial studies, and details and information on how to easily create and run the rapid test were made available online for free.
He noted that the test was not patented by Rutgers because researchers believe it should be widely available to the public as quickly as possible.
“If you slow down and start patents, negotiate licensing deals and try to make money with that, you lose all of these huge time-saving benefits.”
Alland said the rapid test cannot be done at home, it requires a lab. But New Jersey has a lot.
He also noted that the variant test can easily be modified to be used for any new type of variant discovered in the future.
“We have to be able to detect the variants, obviously, and know when they are coming in and know what they are,” he said. “We also need to understand what these variants mean in terms of vaccine effectiveness, we need to understand what they mean in terms of treatments.”
“We certainly can’t do that if we don’t know they’re there,” he said.
You can contact reporter David Matthau at [email protected]