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No more nose swabs? Why a saliva test for COVID-19 could be a 'game changer' –



Instead of having an extra-long swab pushed way up your nose, you could soon just spit into a cup to get tested for COVID-19. 

SalivaDirect, a cheap, saliva-based test for the disease developed by researchers at Yale University, received emergency authorization for use from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this week. The test was developed with the help of funding from the NBA, National Basketball Players Association and a grant from the Mercatus Center at George Mason University.

Rather than being commercialized and licensed to particular companies, it’s being released as an “open source” protocol — a recipe that’s freely available for other labs to follow using a variety of commercially available ingredients and equipment. 

Unfortunately, the test isn’t yet available in Canada. But here’s why the new test and similar tests under development could be a big step forward in keeping the pandemic under control.

The team says the new saliva-based test is ‘simpler and less invasive’ than traditional nasopharyngeal swab tests for COVID-19. (Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

How the SalivaDirect test works

The test detects genetic material or RNA from SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, using equipment in a lab.

In that way, it’s very similar to the nose swab tests that have been the standard for detecting COVID-19 up until now. Because that analysis has to be done in a lab, the results aren’t instantaneous — like the traditional test, they’ll take about a day to come back.

But the new test has two main differences:

  • The RNA is collected from saliva, not a nose swab.
  • It skips a step required in standard tests called “nucleic acid extraction,” which separates RNA from the sample and requires special chemical ingredients. Instead, it uses a widely available enzyme and heat.

Lab tests comparing SalivaDirect to a traditional nasal swab test found it was only slightly less sensitive, and both types of tests got the same result more than 90 per cent of the time.

Swab samples are tested for coronavirus RNA at a hospital in Liege, Belgium. SalivaDirect also tests for RNA, so analysis in the new saliva-based test must also be done in a lab. (Francisco Seco/The Associated Press)

Main advantages

Even people who haven’t had the test probably aren’t enticed by images or video of the nose swabbing procedure.

“We can all agree that it’s not a pleasant experience,” said Anne Wyllie, associate research scientist at the Yale School of Public Health, part of the team that developed the new test.

The team calls the test “simpler and less invasive” than traditional nasopharyngeal swab tests for COVID-19.

But its advantages go beyond comfort.

In an FDA news release, Admiral Brett G. Giroir, assistant secretary at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and its COVID-19 testing co-ordinator, called the new test a “testing innovation game changer that will reduce the demand for scarce testing resources.”

That’s because:

  • The sample can be collected in any sterile container and requires neither nose swabs, which are sometimes in short supply, nor chemicals called nucleic acid preservatives.
  • Skipping the nucleic acid extraction step eliminates the need for the chemical kits and reagents, which are also sometimes in short supply. It also reduces the processing time.
  • The sample can be collected by the patient him or herself under supervision of a health-care worker. That could potentially lower the risk to health-care workers, who currently have to do the nose swabbing on patients.
  • It has already been tested and shown to work with reagents and instruments from different companies. “This flexibility enables continued testing if some vendors encounter supply chain issues, as experienced early in the pandemic,” Yale University said in a news release.
  • That also makes it cheaper than traditional COVID-19 testing, in addition to being simpler and less invasive. Wyllie estimates the chemical ingredients needed for the test cost less than $4 US ($5.30 Cdn), and she thinks labs could do it for roughly $10 a sample.

One U.S. company, DiaCarta, has already submitted its COVID-19 saliva test to Health Canada for review. Health Canada says it hasn’t been accepted yet, but the department is working ‘as quickly as possible.’ (CBC News)

Limited testing, availability so far

So far, the test has only undergone limited testing in the lab and results have only been published online, prior to peer review, on a few dozen known positive and negative samples.

“It’s really with a small, fairly controlled sample,” said Dr. Andrew Morris, a professor of medicine at the University of Toronto and Sinai Health System, who wasn’t involved in the research. “We don’t know how the test will perform in the real world.”

However, based on that preliminary data, he called the performance “pretty good.”

Spitting in a cup may soon be an alternative to the standard COVID-19 test that goes up through the nose, but saliva tests haven’t yet been approved for use in Canada. 2:00

SalivaDirect is currently being tested on the field in partnership with the National Basketball Association and the National Basketball Players Association. Part of the goal is to find out:

  • If it’s effective for detecting asymptomatic or presymptomatic cases.
  • If cases can be detected in “pooled” samples where samples from many individuals are combined for testing at the same time, to see if cases are popping up, for example, on a team or in a workplace.

The test will be offered first at the Yale Pathology Laboratory and at the Jackson Laboratory for Genomic Medicine in Farmington, Conn.

It has not yet been authorized for use in Canada. But Morris says in general, once tests are approved by Health Canada, provinces have been able to scale up pretty rapidly.

Morris notes that SalivaDirect isn’t the first saliva test for COVID-19 authorized in the U.S. — the FDA says it’s the fifth: “It just appears that this one is easier and doesn’t require the [extraction] reagents.”

A similar test from Rutgers Clinical Genomics Laboratory and Spectrum Solutions is being used by Major League Baseball.

One U.S. company, DiaCarta, has already submitted its COVID-19 saliva test to Health Canada for review. Health Canada says it hasn’t been accepted yet, but the department is working “as quickly as possible.”

Norm Powell, left, of the Toronto Raptors steals the ball from Garrett Temple of the Brooklyn Nets in Game 2 of an NBA playoff series, Wednesday. The saliva-based test was developed with funding from the NBA and the National Basketball Players Association. (Kevin C. Cox/Pool Photo/AP)

Potential applications: Schools, workplaces

However, Morris thinks it could lead to wider testing.

“It’s been difficult to get people to go to assessment centres,” he said. “If they’re able to provide a spit sample, it will make it a lot easier for public health officials to get samples from people we need to get it from.”

He thinks it has a lot of promise for large populations such as school, college or university students and large workplaces.

Future of saliva tests

Wyllie hopes the saliva test will also be a stepping stone toward faster tests and at-home tests.

Those would be similar to at-home pregnancy tests that provide results within minutes, allowing people to test daily before work or school.

Some such tests are already under development. In Canada, there are teams working on development at the University of Saskatchewan, the University of Regina and Ontario’s Western University; Kelowna, B.C.-based Metabolic Insights; and Victoria-based ImmunoPrecise Antibodies in collaboration with the University of Victoria.

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Tla'amin Nation COVID-19 survivor warns virus spreads easily and recovery is difficult – Yahoo News Canada



Brandon Peters was keeping his bubble small this summer.

The Vancouver resident planted a “COVID garden” and planned on playing it as safe as possible during the pandemic. Those plans were derailed, and so was his health, after attending the funeral of a loved one on Tla’amin Nation territory on the north Sunshine Coast near Powell River, B.C. 

Peters, a member of the nation, was diagnosed with COVID-19 within days of the visit. After spending most of September in bed fighting the virus, he is now speaking out publicly to warn people just how hard that fight can be.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content=""I opened myself up for just a minute, a couple people hugged me, and I got sick within a couple of days," said Peters Thursday on On The Island.” data-reactid=”15″>”I opened myself up for just a minute, a couple people hugged me, and I got sick within a couple of days,” said Peters Thursday on On The Island.

He said when he left the north Sunshine Coast, he was so overcome with fatigue he could not complete the 80 kilometre drive to the Langdale Ferry Terminal to catch a ferry to the Lower Mainland. Instead, he had to pull over and sleep.

Peters did make it back to Vancouver though, only to have a horrible night where he said he felt “deep pain” throughout his body and had an excruciating headache. 

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="Down for the count” data-reactid=”18″>Down for the count

The next day he got tested for COVID-19. The day after that, he learned he was positive.

For the next few weeks, Peters lay in bed so overcome with exhaustion he said he couldn’t eat anything and drank only water.

“The fatigue was so intense I would have to gather my gumption just to go to the washroom,” he said.

In a recently uploaded video on the Tla’amin Nation’s Facebook page, Peters says he wondered every day while bed-ridden if he was going to make it to see another week.

Fortunately, Peters was never hospitalized and says he now has about 80 per cent of his strength back. Now he wants to tell others his story to try and prevent anyone from going through the harrowing ordeal he did — or worse.

The video is part of sharing that story.

“People might look at me like a leper over the next little while but I think if I help a couple people it will make the video worthwhile,” said Peters.

He said it is important to him that people take the risks of the virus seriously and stop engaging in activities that could put themselves or others at risk.

“This is going to be with us for a while and we need to make those responsible decisions.”

According to a media release from the Tla’amin Nation, there have been 36 positive COVID-19 cases reported in the nation since September 7.

The community is currently in a state of local emergency and non-approved visitors are restricted from Tla’amin land.

<p class="canvas-atom canvas-text Mb(1.0em) Mb(0)–sm Mt(0.8em)–sm" type="text" content="To hear the complete interview with Brandon Peters on On The Island, tap here.” data-reactid=”30″>To hear the complete interview with Brandon Peters on On The Island, tap here.

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NASA says bus-sized asteroid safely buzzed Earth | TheHill – The Hill



NASA reported that an asteroid roughly the size of a school bus passed by Earth early Thursday morning, traveling from about 13,000 miles away. 

According to the government space agency, the rock made its closest approach to Earth around 7 a.m. EDT on Thursday, passing over the Southeastern Pacific Ocean. 

NASA first reported on the asteroid on Tuesday, saying that scientists estimated the space rock was about 15 to 30 feet wide. Scientists predict that the asteroid will now travel around the sun and not make its way back into the Earth’s vicinity until 2041. 


Paul Chodas, director of the Center for Near-Earth Object Studies at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California, said Tuesday that space rocks such as these are relatively common and are not considered a threat to life on Earth. 

“There are a large number of tiny asteroids like this one, and several of them approach our planet as close as this several times every year,” Chodas said. “In fact, asteroids of this size impact our atmosphere at an average rate of about once every year or two.”

He added that “the detection capabilities of NASA’s asteroid surveys are continually improving, and we should now expect to find asteroids of this size a couple days before they come near our planet.” 


NASA said that while Thursday’s asteroid was not on a trajectory to hit Earth, it would have likely broken up in the atmosphere and become a bright meteor, known as a fireball, before causing any damage. 

This comes a month after NASA reported that an asteroid is on a path toward Earth one day before the U.S. presidential election, although the agency said that the chances of it actually hitting the Earth’s surface are less than 1 percent. NASA confirmed in a statement to The Hill last month that the rock would not pose a threat. 

“If it were to enter our planet’s atmosphere, it would disintegrate due to its extremely small size,” a spokesperson said in the statement. “NASA has been directed by Congress to discover 90% of the near-Earth asteroids larger than 140 meters (459 feet) in size and reports on asteroids of any size.”

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UM physicists part of international team for historic first – UM Today



September 24, 2020 — 

UM researchers on an international team of physicists have made the first precise measurement of the weak force between particles in the universe, verifying a theory of the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

Using a device called the the Spallation Neutron Source at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the scientists were able to measure the weak force exerted between protons and neutrons by detecting the miniscule electrical signal produced when a neutron and a helium-3 nucleus combined and then decayed moving through a target. 

The result was published in the journal Physical Review Letters.

As described in the online news site Mirage News

The Standard Model describes the basic building blocks of matter in the universe and fundamental forces acting between them. Calculating and measuring the weak force between protons and neutrons is an extremely difficult task.

Their finding yielded the smallest uncertainty of any comparable weak force measurement in the nucleus of an atom to date, which establishes an important benchmark.

UM physicist Dr. Michael Gericke said:

When a neutron and a helium-3 nucleus combine, the reaction produces an excited, unstable helium-4 isotope, decaying to one proton and one triton (consisting of two neutrons and one proton), both of which produce a tiny but detectable electrical signal as they move through the helium gas in the target cell.”

Gericke led the group that built the combined helium-3 target and detector system designed to pick up the very small signals and led the subsequent analysis.

Read the Mirage News story here.

An analysis and explanation of the discovery is here.

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