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New Device From MIT, Harvard Can Quickly Detect COVID Variants In Saliva Samples

CAMBRIDGE (CBS) -- A new device designed by MIT and Harvard University engineers could help diagnose the spread of new COVID variants.

The tabletop diagnostic platform can detect coronavirus in saliva samples in about an hour, and also find viral mutations that are specific to the variants that are circulating the globe. It's said to be as accurate as the PCR tests that use nasal swabs.

So far it has been able to detect the UK, South African and Brazailian variants, but researchers say it can easily be adapted to diagnosis the Delta variant and others that may be emerging.

The technology could make it "much easier to track different variants of the virus, especially in regions that don't have access to genetic sequencing facilities," the researchers say.

"We demonstrated that our platform can be programmed to detect new variants that emerge, and that we could repurpose it quite quickly," MIT engineering professor James Collins said in a statement.

It costs about $15 to make the device, but it could be as cheap as $2 or $3 if mass produced.

The device is totally self-contained and no other equipment is needed.

"Essentially the patient spits into this device, and then you push down a plunger and you get an answer an hour later," Wyss Institute clinical fellow Xiao Tan said.

If the device gets FDA approval, it could be made for home use or in places without easy access to PCR testing.

"We wanted to make this an accessible device for people who don't have access basically to a hospital run microbiology lab," said Rose Lee, infectious disease specialist at Boston Children's Hospital.

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