The high-quality assay can be used in at-home tests for rapid COVID-19 screening. (Credit: Pixabay)

Researchers have designed a high-quality assay that can be used in at-home tests for rapid COVID-19 screening. Results from an early preclinical study suggest that tests with the new assay may be just as reliable as the laboratory-based molecular tests — called PCR tests — used by hospitals for clinical diagnostics.

Researchers applied a bioinformatics algorithm to identify the best potential DNA primer combinations for reliably detecting SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, with the loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) method. Then, the researchers ran a series of simulations to optimize the conditions under which the potential DNA primer combinations worked best in the field environments.

After using their analysis to develop a testing method using the DNA primers and conditions, the team designed experiments to see how the test performed.

They processed artificial samples and human samples with a standard PCR test and with their new test. When the results were compared, the researchers not only saw significant improvement in the efficiency of their test over others but also that it was comparable to more expensive gold standard PCR tests.

The researchers say the new assays have unique advantages, like speed and direct detection of viral RNA in saliva, that make the test ideal for inexpensive point-of-care diagnosis.