Story at a glance
- There are still many cases of SARS-CoV-2 in the U.S. and around the world.
- Mass testing could be important for schools and companies returning to in person.
- A new method uses sequencing machines that can process thousands of samples at once.
Mass testing has been a major hurdle for getting back into schools and regular indoor activities. Testing that is quick and accurate is necessary to be able to return to larger gatherings. One group of researchers have developed a new way to test many swabs at once that is more sensitive than antigen tests.
In a paper published in Nature Biotechnology, researchers introduce a new test, called LAMP-Seq. It can detect about 100 times lower amounts of virus than current rapid antigen tests, says Jonathan Schmid-Burgk from the Institute of Clinical Chemistry and Clinical Pharmacology of the University Hospital Bonn (UKB) in a press release. It is almost as sensitive and specific as the common qPCR test, he continues.
The test works by the LAMP method, which stands for Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification. In this process, each sample is tagged with a molecular barcode. Then the researchers make copies of the viral genome at a constant temperature and then sequence them in machines. In this way, the samples can be analyzed in a high volume.
Because the barcodes are still attached to the samples, they can identify which ones they are looking for without retesting each sample in the batch if there is a positive result.
This could be a gamechanger going into the fall as schools plan to reopen to fully in person learning. It could also be used for companies, daycare centers and other groups. “Added to this is the high scalability of the test. By using sequencing machines, thousands of samples can be analyzed simultaneously,” says Schmid-Burgk. Sequencing machines can process tens of thousands of samples at once in a single run over 10 to 12 hours.
“In order to effectively contain a pandemic, infected people must be found before they infect others,” says Wolfgang Holzgreve, Medical Director and CEO of the UKB in the press release. “To achieve this goal, we need mass screenings with the highest sensitivity that can give us a detailed picture of existing chains of infection.”
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