Researchers at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem announced on Sunday that they have developed a new method of testing for COVID-19 which is not only 4-10 times faster than the tests most commonly used today, but also significantly cheaper, while supplying the same level of accuracy.
Moreover, most of the materials required to perform the new test are already available in Israel, easing significantly both the country's dire shortage of testing materials and its heavy economic dependence on foreign commercial markets.
The method was developed in the labs of Prof. Nir Friedman of the Institute of Life Sciences and the School of Engineering and Computer Sciences and Dr. Naomi Haviv of Hebrew University's Neuroscience Research Center, and is based on materials which are not affected by global shortages and can even be recycled for repeated used on future tests.
The method commonly used today for COVID-19 testing involves extracting RNA molecules from a patient's sample to determine if they have viral RNA within them, which confirms the presence of the coronavirus.
The new test developed by the researchers performs the same action, but is made from more commonly attainable materials, that produce results at a much higher speed.
Haviv said that, "We have an efficient RNA extraction method, 4-10 times faster than the current method. It is based on magnetic beads and can be performed both robotically and manually."Other than the magnetic beads, all of the other materials needed to perform the tests are available for purchase in Israel. The beads themselves are recyclable and can be reused to perform future tests.
"The robotic method has already undergone a series of tests at Hadassah Hospital, using hundreds of samples from patients – and is now becoming operational."
Friedman also mentioned the successful test comparisons done at Hadassah, saying that the team has "already used the method on hundreds of samples in Hadassah, and all the tests came out identical to the results obtained using the current test."
He said that the next step in their research is to develop a method that will allow tens of thousands of samples to be tested simultaneously.
This method will be based on genomic sequencing tools, and early results look promising.
"We are in the process of developing a test that will allow testing of 15,000 people at the same time. We already have very positive indications that encourage us to believe it can work," Friedman said.
Development of the new method now going into use was led by Dr. Ayelet Rahat, Dr. Masha Adam, Alon Chapelbaum, Dr. Ronen Sadeh and Dr. Anise Kluschendler, along with two experts from the robotics industry, Dr. Uri Shabi and Dr. Moshe Cohen.
The study was funded by the Edmund de Rothschild Foundation and performed by a 15 person team in the labs of Hebrew University.