WOODLAND PARK, N.J. — A new saliva test developed at Rutgers University that could dramatically alter the way the coronavirus is detected – potentially accelerating the rate of collections and limiting exposure to health care workers – received federal emergency approval over the weekend, and officials expect to begin rolling it out as soon as Wednesday.
The new test, developed in part by the university’s RUCDR Infinite Biologics, will allow for broader population screening than the current nose and throat swabs used at testing facilities, officials said. The saliva test also lessens exposure for health care workers, reducing the need for personal protective equipment during the testing process.
"The impact of this approval is significant," Andrew Brooks, RUCDR’s chief operating officer and director of technology development, said in a statement. "It means we no longer have to put health care professionals at risk for infection by performing nasopharyngeal or oropharyngeal collections."
Saliva tests, which typically require patients to spit into a tube, are far less invasive than the current swab methods used to detect coronavirus – which have been described as painful and uncomfortable. The current method used at testing facilities nationally consists of a long, skinny swab being inserted deep into each nostril to reach the nasopharynx, the upper part of the throat behind the nose, and rubbed in a circle to pick up secretions. The end of the swab is then placed in a tube with a culture medium.
The new method, instead, is one that could be self-administered. That helps health care workers limit their contact with patients, allowing them to preserve their personal protective equipment for patient care instead of testing, Brooks said. Because the collection of saliva is quicker and more scalable than the swab method, testing facilities can significantly increase the number of people tested daily, he added.
"All of this combined will have a tremendous impact on testing in New Jersey and across the United States," said Brooks, who is also a Rutgers professor.
The test, developed by RUCDR in partnership with Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs, received emergency use authorization by the Food and Drug Administration on Saturday. That same day, the White House’s COVID-19 testing task force contacted Brooks to offer support to expand its use by other labs. The team has also shared information with the chief executives of science companies involved with COVID-19 testing, Brooks said.
RUCDR Infinite Biologics is part of Rutgers’ Human Genetics Institute of New Jersey. It is also the world’s largest university-based cell and DNA repository. The RUCDR recently launched a genetic testing service for the coronavirus that can test thousands of samples daily. University officials estimate that number may increase to tens of thousands of samples daily.
"Saliva testing will help with the global shortage of swabs for sampling and increase testing of patients, and it will not require health care professionals to be put at risk to collect samples," Brooks said. "Saliva testing will also be important for people who are in quarantine because they don’t know how long it will be until they are no longer infectious. This will allow health care workers to release themselves from quarantine and safely come back to work."
It remains unclear if and when the test could be rolled out to other testing facilities statewide. University officials did not respond to a message seeking further comment Monday.
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