Virginia Tech researchers develop COVID-19 test

Published: Apr. 22, 2020 at 11:46 PM EDT
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Researchers at Virginia Tech have been given the green light to start testing people for

with a test they designed.

WDBJ7 was the only station that got access to see the testing in action.

It’s a test they’ve spent weeks developing.

“Having this capability really increases our ability to respond effectively in this pandemic right now and as we look to recovery moving forward,” said Dr. Noelle Bissell, the director of the New River Health District.

Healthcare workers and researchers shared the news over a Zoom press conference on Wednesday.

The FDA issued Emergency Use Authorization for Virginia Tech to proceed with the test, although the FDA review of the validation is still pending. The university got permission from federal and state levels to begin processing samples at on-campus labs in both Blacksburg and Roanoke.

Dr. Michael Friedlander, the vice president of health sciences and technology at Virginia Tech, helped to lead the efforts on this project.

“We have a test that’s been working really well,” he said. “We think it’s going to be extremely accurate and we’ll be able to turn it around with very good turnaround times in many cases by the end of the same day.”

The test is a nasal swab at an off-campus testing site that’s brought to the school where tests can have results in just six hours.

“If that sample comes directly to us it doesn’t degrade,” said Dr. Harald Sontheimer, the director of the Center for Glial Biology in Health, Disease and Cancer. “With the current backlog in the system from other test providers, there is this fear that if these samples aren’t stored properly that the viral genes will actually degrade and not be properly detected anymore.”

What makes this test unique compared to others is they are scanning for four different genes of the virus to catch anything that could be missed.

“I’m pretty confident that by checking four genes of this we have a tighter chance of preventing a false negative from happening,” said Dr. Carla Finkielstein, an associate professor of biological sciences.

Right now, crews have the ability to run a few hundred tests each day, but they’re looking to expand that quickly, reserving the tests for frontline workers and the most vulnerable populations first.

“The ability to be able to test and then to trace and isolate and contain, that’s essential to moving forward with the pandemic,” Bissell said.

Officials plan to be able to run thousands each day in the coming weeks, starting in the New River Valley and Roanoke areas then expanding. They said it could be necessary for at least a year, maybe even two.

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