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Coronavirus: Newly designed blood test could diagnose carriers before they become infectious, report says

The Independent logo The Independent 01/05/2020 Louise Hall
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A new coronavirus test designed by US Military scientists may be able to identify virus carriers before they are infectious, according to an exclusive report by The Guardian.

Scientists reportedly hope that the blood-based test could detect the virus’s presence as early as 24 hours after infection, four days earlier than current tests, meaning the carrier could possibly be isolated before they spread the disease.

The research has emerged from a project set up by the US military’s Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (Darpa) and while the test could significantly help control outbreaks of the disease, it must first be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

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If given FDA approval, Dr Brad Ringeisen who is head of Darpa’s biological technologies office told the outlet that the test has the potential to be “absolutely a gamechanger”.

“The concept fills a diagnostic gap worldwide,” the head of Darpa’s biological technologies office, Mr Ringeisen told The Guardian.

The blood test hunts for an RNA molecule that emerges as an immune response to the virus, using the same polymerase chain reaction machines used for checking nasal swabs.

“Because the immune response to infection develops immediately after infection, a Covid signature is expected to provide more sensitive Covid infection diagnosis earlier,” Professor Stuart Sealfon, who leads the research team at Mount Sinai hospital in New York told the newspaper.

“It’s a simple tweak,” said Dr Eric Van Gieson, who redirected his epigenetic characterization and observation programme to focus on Covid-19. “The infrastructure is already there.”

However, predictions that the test might be able to pick up carriers before they become infectious is as of yet only based on previous parallel research into other viruses.

Darpa warned that It won't be practically clear exactly how early the test can pick up the virus until the emergency approval is granted and they can begin to gather evidence.

The test is reported to be submitted for evaluation of emergency use approval (EUA) by the US Food FDA in the next week.

If EUA is granted, the test could reportedly start being utilised in the US later in May, but this approval is not guaranteed.

The research behind the development of the tests will eventually be made public, but until this point, many researchers were unwilling to comment further on the research.

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