The University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) School of Dentistry has received $300,000 to develop and clinically validate a rapid response, saliva-based test to detect active COVID-19 infection and the virus’ antibodies.
Dr. David Wong, professor of oral biology, was one of 31 entries out of 3,000 applications to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) $240 million Rapid Accelerated Diagnostic initiative to accelerate newer, more efficient testing technologies to significantly increase the number, type, and availability of tests by millions per week.
“Developing a rapid, point-of-care test to detect the novel coronavirus would eliminate the numerous bottlenecks that our healthcare system faces and would streamline our country’s testing capabilities,” Wong said.
“This noninvasive, user-friendly saliva test is especially amenable for use in nursing homes and for other vulnerable populations. It also poses little risk to healthcare providers,” Wong said.
The test requires a saliva swab from an individual suspected of having the coronavirus or a past infection into Wong’s electric field-induced release and measurement (EFIRM) technology to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the saliva’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), which carries the virus’ genetic code.
The EFIRM machine can identify antibodies in asymptomatic individuals. Up until this point, detection of antibodies has been exclusively blood-based, which can be invasive and requires a phlebotomist, thereby adding additional risk of infecting a healthcare worker. To Wong’s knowledge, his platform is the first in saliva to demonstrate reliable detection of host immunity in COVID-19 patients.
The UCLA School of Dentistry is currently collaborating with various departments at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, including Infectious Diseases and Pathology.