A portable, fast COVID test can differentiate variants, researchers say

The novel findings build on the Illinois researchers previous developments, which allowed samples to bypass the laboratory.

A HEALTH worker administers a COVID test to a child at a Maccabi HMO clinic.  (photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)
A HEALTH worker administers a COVID test to a child at a Maccabi HMO clinic.
(photo credit: MICHAEL GILADI/FLASH90)

Researchers at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign say their point-of-care COVID-19 test can now detect and differentiate the alpha variant of the SARS-CoV-2 virus from earlier strains in saliva samples. The new results, which examined 38 clinical saliva samples, including 20 samples positive for alpha variant, were published in the journal Lab on a Chip

The novel findings build on the group’s previous developments, which allowed samples to bypass the laboratory – first using nasopharyngeal swabs, then with saliva samples. The unique testing process, called LAMP, is more efficient than PCR because it does not require expensive thermal cycling machines, according to the researchers. They noted that the assay does not need RNA extraction and purification steps.

Patients may want to know which virus they were infected with as studies have indicated different variants may cause different long COVID symptoms.

 Health care worker takes swab samples from Israelis at a covid-19 drive through testing complex in Modi'in, February 1, 2022. (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90) Health care worker takes swab samples from Israelis at a covid-19 drive through testing complex in Modi'in, February 1, 2022. (credit: YOSSI ALONI/FLASH90)

“Our study shows that it is possible to test for variants of the same coronavirus strain in a single point-of-care test that takes 30 minutes using a portable handheld device,” Bioengineering Professor Rashid Bashir, who co-led the study, said. “The new test is scalable to suit future pandemics, COVID-19 or otherwise, and could be used at home or other settings.” 

The researchers added that they would like to refine their method to test up to five different viruses, viral strains and variants in a single test, in tune with nasal swab and saliva mediums.