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ASU scientists developing saliva-based coronavirus test, aim to reduce barriers to widespread testing

Posted at 4:01 PM, May 14, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-14 21:03:02-04

PHOENIX — Scientists at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute are developing a saliva-based coronavirus test, which would be faster and easier to administer than the nasal swabs being used now.

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Joshua LaBaer, the institute's executive director, said the new type of test could be a "game-changer" for widespread testing.

"We just want the spit that's in your mouth, just saliva," he said. "A number of studies have shown the virus count is very high in saliva."

ASU is designing a test kit, which they hope to roll out in the next few weeks, to include a small tube that a person would fill with spit. Just last week, the FDA approved an at-home saliva kit, created by Rutgers University.

"The more testing that is available and the lower the bar is to get that test, the better it is for everybody," LaBaer said.

Nasopharyngeal swabs are currently used by most medical offices and drive-up testing sites, and must be used by trained medical staff in full personal protective equipment.

"It also induces coughing sometimes and spitting and maybe sneezing, which means that the nurse has to be covered," LaBaer said.

The swab test is also uncomfortable for the patient.

"We've seen grown, bearded lineman kind of get teary-eyed having to do it again, so people don't love it," he added.

Even with saliva tests, LaBaer said it would still be too expensive to test everybody all the time. Medical providers and health officials would still need to prioritize people at the highest risk.