In the initial stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, neuroscientist Dr. Robert Darnell of Rockefeller University developed a saliva test to identify positive cases within the Rockefeller community.
The test has been used over the past nine months to detect and isolate COVID-19 infected individuals working on the university’s campus.
Now, a new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, has confirmed that Darnell’s saliva test, called DRUL, performs well, if not better, than nasal and oral swab tests, according to Medical Express.
The study compared the DRUL saliva test with a conventional swab test in more than 160 individuals and found that that DRUL caught all of the cases that the swabs identified as positive, including four positive cases that the swabs did not entirely detect.
Dr. Darnell said, “This research confirms that the test we developed is sensitive and safe. It is inexpensive, has provided excellent surveillance within the Rockefeller community, and has the potential to improve safety in communities as the pandemic drags on.”
In the early days of the pandemic, COVID-19 testing was extremely difficult, and then soon after, there were shortages of the FDA-approved oral and nasal swabs. At the time, we also ran out of personal protective equipment (PPE), while the virus was grappling the whole world.
However, the DRUL test offered some relief, as it was safe and could be done at home. The saliva test used only off-the-shelf reagents. It was inexpensive, costing just $2 per test. More importantly, it was extremely easy to use.
The current study has shown that the DRUL test, in most cases, outperforms the widely used nasal and oral swab tests.
The researchers found that the test succeeded in identifying a single viral particle in just one microliter of saliva and it successfully detected the virus in samples.
Virginia Huffman, vice president for human resources at Rockefeller, said, “The CFC (Child and Family Center) was a pilot program, demonstrating that we could use the test for weekly screenings.”
Pamela Stark, Director of the CFC, said, “We were open for four months with 150 students on-site and not a single positive.”
Dr. Darnell’s lab and the CFC coordinated contact tracing and isolation when the first positive case appeared in December, according to Medical Xpress. No one else was infected.
So far, more than 65,000 tests have been performed using the DRUL test at Rockefeller. The test has now become a standard weekly screen for all employees of Rockefeller. Other groups have also implemented the test, including researchers at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute research campus, Stop COVID-19, and New York City’s integrated healthcare system.