KU Researchers Developing Saliva Test for COVID-19 That Could Provide Results in 15 Minutes


LAWRENCE, Kan. — A University of Kansas professor is leading an effort to develop a quick-turnaround COVID-19 test that can be used at home. Professor Steven Soper’s team, which includes a half-dozen graduate students in bioengineering and chemistry, is repurposing “lab on a chip” technology. Soper had previously developed this technology to give doctors simple tools to quickly and more easily diagnose conditions ranging from stroke to colon cancer. Soper says taking the COVID-19 test will be as simple as taking a home pregnancy test, only this test involves saliva. “You take a saliva sample, you put it in the chip, and the chip does the processing,” Soper said. The whole process, including results, should take around 15 minutes. Current tests — including one used by KU — involve multiple steps, require a trained operator to implement the test and need an hour or two before results are available. Soper’s team has been working on the project since early June after researchers were allowed to return to their on-campus labs following KU’s shutdown in March. Funding for the effort comes from the National Institutes of Health. The next step in the process is to conduct clinical trials of the test between now and the end of the year in order to obtain approval from the U.S. Food & Drug Administration for widespread use. Once that happens, Soper said, “It’s a matter of manufacturing and getting it out to the market.”