NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. (CBS/AP) --Rutgers University researchers have received U.S. clearance for the first saliva-based test to help diagnose COVID-19. The test, which was developed by researchers at Rutgers University's RUCDR Infinite Biologics and Spectrum Solutions and Accurate Diagnostic Labs, will allow for broader population screening than the current method of nose and throat swabs.
"Saliva testing will help with the global shortage of swabs for sampling and increase testing of patients, and it will not require health care professionals to be put at risk to collect samples," Andrew Brooks, chief operating officer and director of technology development at RUCDR, said. "Saliva testing will also be important for people who are in quarantine because they don't know how long it will be until they are no longer infectious. This will allow health care workers to release themselves from quarantine and safely come back to work."
The current approach to screening for COVID-19 requires health care workers to take a swab from a patient's nose or throat. To lessen infection risks, many hospitals and clinics instruct staff to discard gloves and masks after close contact with anyone who may have the virus. And many institutions are struggling with shortages of basic medical supplies, including gloves, masks and swabs.
With the new saliva-based test, patients are given a plastic tube into which they spit several times. They then hand the tube back to the health care worker for laboratory processing.
"This prevents health care professionals from having to actually be in the face of somebody that is symptomatic," Brooks said.
An infectious disease expert not involved with the new test said it would help overcome some of the patient discomfort and difficulties in taking swab samples.
"You want to be in all types of situations with all types of options so that we can have as much testing as possible in whatever form is suitable," said Dr. Amesh Adalja of Johns Hopkins University. Adalja noted that similar saliva tests have helped expand testing for HIV and other conditions.
Rutgers tested the accuracy of its method by taking both saliva and swab samples from 60 patients. The results from patients' saliva samples had a 100% match with results from the swabs.
Rutgers developed the laboratory method for the test using saliva collection kits from Spectrum Solutions, a Utah company that provides similar devices for DNA-based ancestry testing services. The Rutgers lab can currently process 10,000 patient samples per day, according to Brooks.
In its authorization letter to Rutgers, the FDA said the test should only be performed "in a health care setting under the supervision of a trained health care provider." The FDA has not cleared any COVID-19 tests for use at home, though several companies have announced plans to make them available.
Additionally, the FDA said patients who test negative with the saliva-based kit should have their results confirmed with a second testing method.
The tests are available to the RWJBarnabas Health network. The test will be available starting Wednesday at a drive-thru testing facility at 33 Kilmer Road in Edison, New Jersey.
(© Copyright 2020 CBS Broadcasting Inc. All Rights Reserved. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)
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