Coronavirus

Virginia Tech researchers develop new COVID-19 test to combat local testing backlogs, shortages

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BLACKSBURG, Va. (WFXR) — Local health departments may finally have a fighting chance against testing backlogs and shortages thanks to new coronavirus testing method developed by Virginia Tech scientists, who have already secured state and federal approval to start testing samples at two on-campus labs.

This new COVID-19 test will help health officials identify patients suspected of having COVID-19 in a timely fashion, which Virginia Tech officials say is a critical step in the process of slowing the pandemic in Virginia. Officials said the test doesn’t take more than 6 hours typically.

Patient samples will reportedly be collected by health departments or cooperating health systems — including the Schiffert Student Health Center at Virginia Tech — but not at the Virginia Tech labs at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke or the Fralin Life Sciences Institute in Blacksburg.

“Virginia Tech has received emergency permission to begin testing COVID-19 samples and we have notified local health departments that we are ready to begin receiving samples soon,” says Michael Friedlander, executive director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC and Virginia Tech’s vice president of health sciences and technology. “With expanded testing becoming crucial to controlling the pandemic, in Virginia and the nation, Virginia Tech faculty, staff and graduate students went to work to answer the challenge.”

Officials say the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued Emergency Use Authorization for Virginia Tech to proceed with testing. However, FDA review of the validation is pending, according to the university. In addition, Virginia Tech says local health departments coordinated their development of testing priorities.

Faculty research leaders and their teams — primarily by Carla Finkielstein at the Fralin Life Sciences Institute and Harald Sontheimer at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute — addressed the need for accurate testing by developing and perfecting the test. Virginia Tech says the scientists developed a new procedure to test for COVID-19 RNA based on a laboratory technique known as reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT-PCR). According to officials, the new test method returns sample results in a single day.

“We have the scientific expertise to address the COVID-19 pandemic throughout the state and the world,” Virginia Tech President Tim Sands says. “Diagnostic health testing may not be part of our normal academic and research routine, but when lives are at stake, it is Virginia Tech’s role to take action and make a difference wherever we can.”

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