MSU researchers develop more accurate COVID-19 test

Coronavirus

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — We have all seen the long Q-tips used to get samples from those being tested for coronavirus, but those swabs don’t always give an accurate read.

Between 20% and 30% of those tests come up with false negative.

“Thirty percent is a significant amount of people that think that they might be OK. But them go walking out into the streets saying I’m fine, I don’t have this disease, and then they end up spreading it,” said Jack Lipton, chair of the translational neuroscience program at Michigan State’s College of Human Medicine in Grand Rapids.

Using research out from Wuhan, China, Lipton and his team developed a new testing process. A machine called a Droplet Digital PCR amplifies the genetic material in the same sample and calculates how much of the virus is in a patient’s body. The procedure is 500 times more sensitive than standard testing.

“The increase in sensitivity will allow us to find very low viral loads in people that would normally be missed by the regular PCR tests that are used in most diagnostic laboratories,” Lipton said.

The process is being fast-tracked by the various government agencies that need to put a stamp of approval on it. An OK could come as soon as this month, but that’s just one hurdle.

“It’s hard to consider it a game-changer because right now, the legislation that exists nationally doesn’t allow research laboratories to offer clinical diagnostic testing,” Lipton said.

Only about 4 million people have been tested for the virus across the U.S., which has 328 million residents.

“If we can get academic labs like ours, research labs in universities all over the country, utilizing their know-how, their expertise in creating robust, reliable tests, we could probably increase testing by about a million per day,” Lipton said. “If we can get to a million per day, we can really start making a dent in our ability to test and track this disease.”

Lipton was set to meet with Michigan’s congressional delegation Wednesday to talk about ways to get over the remaining hurdles in testing.

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