Prof. Naama Geva-Zatorsky and her research team are working to make the method usable as a mass testing kit at workplaces, points of care and households. The test requires only a saliva sample, reagents and a thermal cup."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," explained Geva-Zatorsky.
The test is done by immersing the saliva sample in a test tube that contains a reactive material and then placing the tube in a thermal cup with hot water. A color change in the material indicates the presence of the coronavirus. "The test is not designed to replace the current conventional method," added Geva-Zatorsky.
The test currently identifies 99% of cases when tested on standard swabs in medium and high concentrations of the virus, but a second test is required when dealing with low concentrations of the virus. "We are now completing the experiments in order to improve sensitivity to the presence of the virus, even in low concentrations," explained the professor.
Once the test is approved by the Health Ministry, it could be used at entrances to hospitals, nursing homes, airports and drive-through facilities.
"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 Prof. Michal 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, established in 2014 as part of the Israeli Biorepository Network for Research (MIDGAM).
"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.
Since the start of the coronavirus crisis, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett has been pushing for Israel to test around 30,000 people per day – among the highest per capita compared to other countries – when the government was only testing around 1,000 people daily. By the end of March, however, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Health Ministry agreed that testing needed to be increased, committing to 15,000 tests per day by mid-April and 30,000 by the end of the month.
Although in recent days the number of daily tests has increased – the Health Ministry reported testing 12,281 people on Sunday and 11,908 on April 16 – on average, fewer than 10,000 people are being screened for coronavirus per day.
Lahav Harkov and Maayan Jaffe-Hoffman contributed to this report.