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Utah DNA company develops new test for COVID-19

Valery Leon prepares saliva collection devices at Spectrum DNA in Draper on Tuesday, April 7, 2020. The Utah company has developed the test kit to detect the coronavirus in patients’ saliva. (PHOTO: Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah — A Utah DNA company is developing a new test for COVID-19 that won’t require an uncomfortable nasal swab.

New test, old technology

The technology was originally created to help users trace their ancestry through saliva. Now, scientists at Spectrum DNA can use it to detect possible cases of the coronavirus.

The company, headquartered in Draper, says the new tests allow for self-administered sample collection. This allows individuals who may be in quarantine or self-isolation to test themselves.

“We ran a study side-by-side, taking the swabs — either nasal swabs or throat swabs — and we looked at those versus looking at the saliva test,” said Stephen Fanning, CEO of Spectrum Solutions.

They found the saliva test is more than a capable alternative.

It was 100% accurate in predicting if you had the virus or not. – Fanning

Until now, testing for the coronavirus has required individuals to undergo invasive and often painful nasal and throat swabbing.

Less pain, increased accessibility

“This is a significant improvement in a couple of ways,” Fanning said. “Obviously, putting a very long swab in your nose is not easy [and] it’s rather painful, so with ours, there’s less pain.

He said it also helps to minimize exposure to the virus.

“To do the swab method, you need to have a professional person stand there to insert the swab into the nasal cavity,” he said. “That potentially puts the professional at risk of getting the virus.”

The Deseret News notes the new saliva testing method is being used by individual health care providers under an emergency use authorization from the FDA.

New York and New Jersey have accepted the parameters Spectrum has put forth in its application to the FDA.

Right now, no laboratories in Utah have authorization for the new testing. However, Fanning said providers anywhere in the country can use it. After using the Spectrum test device, they can send samples to RUCDR Infinite Biologics for results.

These laboratories can do this until more providers are added.