US military scientists are developing a new type of blood test for the coronavirus that could detect an infection before symptoms start, according to a Guardian report.
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is collaborating with scientists from several American universities to create a screening tool to bridge the gap between the nasal swabs used to detect people currently sick with COVID-19 and the antibodies to detect those who have already been infected and can be immunized.
It is the result of a redesign of a program that was launched to develop a test to quickly identify when soldiers have been exposed to biological weapons.
The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, one of DARPA’s research partners, refused to specify the type of test it develops, but the test has the potential to diagnose coronavirus within 24 hours of infection, according to The Guardian.
Military research arm, DARPA, is developing a new blood test for the coronavirus that may be able to detect the virus much faster than current diagnoses (file)
DARPA and Mount Sinai request emergency use authorization from Food and Administration (FDA) and say they can start testing half a million people a day in the second half of May if granted.
Currently, there are three types of coronavirus tests: nasal swab diagnostics called PCR tests, antibody tests, and more recently, antigen tests.
But there are problems with everyone.
Swab diagnostics are not completely reliable in detecting an infection until four days after infection, and research suggests that people are contagious even earlier and without symptoms.
Antibody tests for blood are used to determine who has already been infected and has started to develop immunity to the infection.
But knowing who has the virus but is not symptomatic is both crucial to slowing its spread and very difficult to determine.
A study from a Seattle-area nursing home found that 56% of people tested positive had no symptoms at the time of the test (although half of them later developed symptoms).
HOW DO BLOOD TESTS FOR CORONAVIRUS WORK?
Simple blood tests for the coronavirus, like Premier Biotech, work much like pregnancy tests.
Once the blood sample is taken, a technician injects it into the analysis device – which is the size of an Apple TV or Roku remote control – with a tampon, and waits for about 10 minutes.
The blood droplet and tampon penetrate the absorbent paper strip enclosed in the plastic collection device.
Blood naturally infiltrates along the strip, which is colored at three points: one for each of the two types of antibodies and a third control line.
The strip is labeled “IgM” and “IgG” for immunoglobulins M and G. Each of these types of antibodies is produced by the body in response to infection in an advanced or early stage.
Along each strip, the antibodies themselves are printed in combination with gold, which reacts when the antigen – or pathogen, in this case, the virus that causes COVID-19 – or the antibody to fight are present.
The results are displayed in a similar way to those of a home pregnancy test.
One line – the upper control strip – means negative.
Two lines – the upper control line and the lower IgM line – in a spread out configuration mean that the sample contains antibodies that the body begins to make soon after infection.
Two closer lines – control and IgG – together mean that the person is positive for antibodies at an advanced stage.
Three lines indicate that the patient is positive for both types of antibodies.
This suggests that coronavirus is much more widespread than current estimates predict, and that a test to identify these people is essential.
The DARPA team was developing a test capable of quickly detecting the exposure of a soldier or a citizen to germs or biological weapons, an initiative launched last year under the name of characterization program and epigenetic observation (Echo).
When the pandemic broke out, the program quickly pivoted to join the COVID-19 response.
The diagnostic tool developed there had already shown its ability to detect other viruses.
“We have evidence that the diagnosis occurs within the first 24 hours for influenza and an adenovirus,” said Dr. Van Gieson, who was responsible for building the Echo program, at the Guardian.
“We are still proving it with Covid-19. That said, we should know very soon after the EUA. “
DailyMail.com attempted to contact both Dr. Van Gieson and a doctor from Mount Sinai who worked on the research to obtain clarification on the type of test that DARPA is doing exactly, but the former did not respond to request and the last declined to comment.
But it has something to do with an immune response.
“Because the immune response to infection develops immediately after infection, a Covid signature should provide a more sensitive diagnosis of Covid infection sooner,” Dr. Stuart Sealfon told The Guardian.
Specifically, the test looks for something called target mRNA.
“Target mRNA is part of the immune response to viral infection,” said Dr. Sealfon.
“The mRNA expression levels really adjust due to the presence of Covid-19. Understanding the immune response is essential to fighting Covid-19. “
This expression may be detectable sooner after infection than serological antibody tests seek.
And the DARPA test could be more accurate than the various antibody tests currently on the market.
Current estimates suggest that the agency’s test is approximately 95% accurate.
Research detailing the test and its effectiveness is expected to be released in the coming weeks, as will the FDA’s decision on the EUA.