New Rapid Test for Detecting Coronavirus

April 23, 2020

Scientists at Technion’s Rappaport Faculty of Medicine have modified a rapid and simple coronavirus detection method that does not require special lab equipment, only hot water and reagents

A team led by Professor Naama Geva-Zatorsky from the Ruth and Bruce Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology is currently developing a home test that can rapidly diagnose the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The simple test produces results in less than one hour. In addition to the researchers in the Geva-Zatorsky lab, the other project were Dr. Moran Szwarcwort-Cohen, who is head of the Virology Laboratory at Rambam Health Care Center; Professor Mical Paul, who heads Rambam’s Infectious Diseases Unit; and Prof. Michal Chowers, head of the Infectious Diseases Unit at Meir Medical Center.
Further development could lead to the use of this method as a mass testing kit in the workplace, points of care, and households.

“We developed a protocol for a test that requires only a saliva sample, reagents, and a thermal cup,” said Prof. Geva-Zatorsky. “The new test’s reliability was measured using 200 biological samples from confirmed coronavirus patients and patients suspected of infection with the virus. The samples were supplied by the coronavirus biobank at Rambam Health Care Campus. One only needs to immerse the saliva sample in a test tube that contains the reactive material and then in the thermal cup with hot water. If the color of the reaction changes, that indicates the presence of the coronavirus. The result is obtained within an hour and does not require lab analysis.” The test, Prof. Geva-Zatorsky added, is not designed to replace the current conventional method.

“We are now completing the experiments in order to improve sensitivity to the presence of the virus, even in low concentrations,” continued Prof. Geva-Zatorsky. “We have found that, when tested on standard swabs, in medium and high concentrations of the virus, the test identifies 99% of the cases, but in low concentrations a second test is necessary a few days later. Once we receive the Health Ministry approval, the kit can be widely distributed. We see this test as suitable for use at entrances to hospitals, workplaces, nursing homes, airports, and in drive-through facilities.”

“The current protocol was validated on standard swabs. As a proof of concept, we successfully detected the virus in saliva samples, and are now validating it on a larger cohort of saliva samples. The new test will primarily increase the scale of testing in the community, and will enable the population to be surveyed faster and on a much wider scale,” said Professor Chowers. “The most significant innovation is that the test can be carried out on site, within an hour, eliminating the need to send the saliva to a special lab.”

The bank of coronavirus samples was recently set up at the Rambam Health Care Campus Biobank, which was established in 2014 as part of the Israeli Biorepository Network for Research (MIDGAM). Rambam immediately realized the vital need for a bank of biological samples from coronavirus patients for research purposes and in record time established Israel’s first coronavirus biobank, containing blood tests and respiratory tract samples.

“The coronavirus biobank consists of samples collected from our patients, not only for diagnosis and verification but also for research purposes,” noted Dr. Shlomit Yehudai-Reshef, Clinical Research Institute Director at Rambam. Dr. Danny Eytan, a senior physician in Rambam’s Pediatric Intensive Care Unit and a member of the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine added, “Each sample includes clinical data — detailed information about the patient’s medical history before and during infection with coronavirus. This data provides an important tool for decision-making and resource allocation.”

Dr. Tal Gefen, Nadav Ben-Assa, Rawi Naddaf, Dr. Tal Capucha, Haitham Hajjo, Noa Mandelbaum, Lilach Elbaum, Dr. Shai Kaplan, and Dr. Asaf Rotem contributed to this research.

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