Covid Scotland: Edinburgh University trials ‘more accurate’ saliva tests for Covid-19

Edinburgh University has launched a trial of new Covid-19 tests which are less invasive, faster and potentially more accurate than current methods.

The research pilot, called TestEd, has developed tests which can detect Covid using a sample of saliva, meaning test subjects can spit into a cup rather than having to take an invasive and uncomfortable nose and throat swab.

The study will offer all students and staff at the university testing twice weekly.

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These PCR tests are more accurate than the lateral flow tests already offered to all students twice a week.

Swab testing as previously done by Edinburgh university students. The new tests will use saliva samples.Swab testing as previously done by Edinburgh university students. The new tests will use saliva samples.
Swab testing as previously done by Edinburgh university students. The new tests will use saliva samples.

The tests are also quicker, as using a method called hypercube sample pooling, dozens of saliva samples can be tested at once, saving money and time.

Existing PCR tests are highly accurate, but samples are normally taken at a test site and sent to a lab for individual analysis, which makes them costly.

If the system is a success, organisers hope it could be rolled out to workplaces such as offices, schools and factories which need access to regular testing.

Since the project began on January 11, it has conducted more than 18,000 tests. The study aims to do half a million tests by the end of the year.

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Senior vice-principal Professor Jonathan Seckl said: “The pandemic has been in a phase of relatively low levels of infection in the community, but cases are now increasing and Covid-19 remains a serious risk to health.

"Therefore having a non-invasive, accurate and affordable method to screen large groups of people in the workplace or centres of education is a high priority.”

TestEd chief investigator Prof Tim Aitman said: “The rise in cases caused by the Delta variant and the subsequent pause in the easing of restrictions are a timely reminder that we will be living with this disease for some time.

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"Against this backdrop, TestEd addresses three key challenges of Covid-19 testing to keep workplaces safe – its ease of use makes it highly acceptable to people, its pooling of samples makes it affordable, and its use of PCR technology maintains high levels of accuracy.

“TestEd is a transformative approach for testing very large numbers for Covid-19 and for keeping organisations and communities safe.”

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