UVA researchers may have found faster way to detect COVID-19

UVA researchers may have found faster way to detect COVID-19
A researcher at UVA working on COVID-19 testing. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - A research team at the University of Virginia says it might have found a new way to detect COVID-19.

Dr. Ben Orsburn’s team is using a device nearly every lab in the world has on hand, and could potentially diagnose patients within hours of them becoming infected.

“The reason that we decided to make our data public, or to make our message public, was when it occurred to us that basically, every hospital in the world these days and every university has a mass spectrometer of some kind,” Orsburn said.

Dr. Orsburn is at the forefront of a new method that may detect coronavirus far faster than traditional DNA testing. The theory is that certain proteins in the virus might appear before a patient even realizes they have been infected. Orsburn says this idea was first proposed during the SARS 2003 outbreak, though the field wasn’t developed enough at the time to test effectively.

“The understanding is that these viruses are similar and that an early detection method could detect the nucleocapsid protein in SARS would be at least there is a nucleocapsid protein in this virus as well.”

Orsburn’s theory found a home in labs in China and Germany.

“Probably within 36 hours or so, we actually saw real proteomics, real protein mass spectrometry data being released by a German group that and their data very strongly mimics our model,” the doctor said. “You see this nucleocapsid protein just go up in abundance really early infection.”

COVID-19 proteins appear in infected samples within hours, and can be detected days before a patient would even begin showing symptoms.

Work is underway to make this detection method widely available.

The team is already working with a company in New York to potentially make rapid sample preparation methods more easily accessible nation wide.

Other labs are building similar detection methods based on the theory.

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