AgResearch is leading the research into this method - with support from fellow Crown Research Institute ESR - which proposes use of specialised machines called mass spectrometers to measure hundreds of molecules in samples of saliva from people being screened for COVID-19.
Funded from the government’s COVID-19 Innovation Acceleration Fund, the work could allow a much faster response to potentially positive cases and shorter wait times for results for people undergoing precautionary quarantine, says AgResearch senior scientist Dr Alastair Ross.
“Another advantage of this new rapid screening test would be simple and frequent monitoring of groups at greater risk of contracting the virus such as those working in quarantine facilities or in hospitals or other essential worker categories,” Dr Ross says.
“We envisage this new method will support the current testing methods used here in New Zealand. Our aim is to determine if this new approach to detecting COVID-19 will be viable within six months from the start of this project.”
Dr Ross says the scientific literature shows that viral infections lead to metabolic changes which can be detected in blood using lab-based mass spectrometers. A new generation of much smaller, more portable mass spectrometers is now available to find the “metabolic fingerprints” from samples within seconds of measurement.