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New 20-minute COVID-19 test the result of university-industry partnership


By David Schwartz
Published: May 4th, 2021

A partnership between UC Davis and Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr., chairman and CEO of Allegiant Travel Company, has led to a new rapid COVID-19 test that has been shown to be 98.3% accurate for positive COVID-19 tests and 96% for negative tests.  

“This test was made from the ground up,” said Nam Tran, professor of pathology in the UC Davis School of Medicine. “Nothing like this test ever existed. We were starting with a clean slate.”  The novel COVID-19 test uses an analytical instrument known as a mass spectrometer, which is paired with a powerful machine-learning platform to detect SARS-CoV-2 in nasal swabs. The mass spectrometer can analyze samples in minutes, with the entire process taking a total of about 20 minutes.

The accuracy matches or outperforms many current COVID-19 screening tests. The new testing method may allow for the rapid screening of large numbers of individuals for businesses, schools, and other large venues or facilities.  

Gallagher, a UC Davis alum and a longtime supporter of innovation and entrepreneurship at UC Davis, wanted to develop something that could address the massive impact the pandemic brought to the airline and hospitality industries and allow people to gather again safely. He approached H. Rao Unnava, professor and dean of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management, who connected him with Tran at the School of Medicine.  

Gallagher entered a sponsored research agreement for the work, with support from Shimadzu Scientific Instruments, to develop an automated COVID-19 test on a mass spectrometer. 

The results is the first test for COVID-19 that pairs mass spectrometry with robotics and a robust automated machine learning platform to rapidly deliver test results. Beyond COVID-19, the technology may be adaptable to other diseases and perhaps future pandemic organisms. 

“Mr. Gallagher, through his generosity as an alum, has shown how business and universities can work together in solving problems of critical importance to the world,” said Unnava.

Gallagher has launched a start-up, SpectraPass, to develop the rapid, automated system into a means to facilitate opening businesses and the economy. Experts at UC Davis Health are helping guide the SpectraPass team through the scientific, machine learning and clinical steps needed to move the COVID-19 testing technology closer to FDA emergency use authorization. 

“The COVID-19 pandemic not only brought the world’s commerce and travel to a halt — it also took away our fundamental human interaction, our freedom to be together,” said Gallagher. “This project has resulted in a real breakthrough that can not only provide instant, accurate information about COVID infection, but can be an important part of addressing other viruses and even developing therapies. The excitement of working with the team at UC Davis is in knowing we are helping make sure our children and grandchildren are better equipped to deal with potential pandemics in the future.”

Source: news wise

Posted under: University-Industry Engagement Week

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