Saliva, CRISPR Could Be Key To Widespread Rapid Testing, Says Expert – KCBS

Posted: August 25, 2020 at 5:52 pm

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Five months into the coronavirus pandemic, widespread testing has still proved to be a major obstacle in fighting the spread of the virus.

Demand has at times strained the supply of tests in the Bay Area throughout the pandemic and many have had to wait in long lines for free tests with results taking several days and in some cases even weeks.

Dr. Fyodor Urnov is a Professor with the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley's Innovative Genomics Institute. He told KCBS Radios "Ask An Expert"Tuesday that scaling up the number of tests available has proved to be a major barrier, as the tests themselves can cost hundreds of dollars, require highly skilled workers to collect and run samples and take six-eight hours just to be processed in the lab.

But he believes that saliva samples and use of CRISPR technology together can solve these issues and make it possible for COVID-19 tests to be collected in the field with results delivered to patients in just two hours.

He saidthe IGI, like most other labs, is currently running qPCR tests on nasal swabs in order to test for the presence of the virus.

"We had to pivot, and we had to pivot to something that could be more scalable and something that could be cheaper. And thats changing one thing - which changes quite a bit - which is going from sticking a stick up your nose or throat or both, to saliva,"he said.

The FDA has granted emergency use authorization to several saliva-based tests.

Professor Urnov explainedsaliva samples are logistically easier to collect, and researchers at UC Berkeley are making progress in testing saliva directly for the presence of the virus without needing to purify the genetic material first, an expensive and time-consuming step in the testing process.

"There is a faster and cheaper way to do that and it may surprise you that its the same old CRISPR,"he explained. Dr. Urnov saidthe process is still being refined in order to make CRISPR tests for the virus more reliable, but he believes that within three to six months it could be possible to run these tests in the field.

"If you know what youre doing, with CRISPR you can get a result in under two hours,"he said.

Significant obstacles still remain, including access to testing supplies and the logistical challenges to deploying a new testing process on a large scale. But Dr. Urnov believes that there is potential for this technology to test a large number of people in vulnerable communities quickly, such as homeless encampments, skilled nursing facilities and low-income neighborhoods.

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Saliva, CRISPR Could Be Key To Widespread Rapid Testing, Says Expert - KCBS

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