'Could be a game changer': Researchers at UCSF, Stanford developing new COVID-19 diagnostic tests

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Ramping up America's COVID-19 testing capacity will be a key component to reopening parts of the economy, and here in the Bay Area, researchers at two leading universities are doing their part to help make that a reality.

Getting tested for coronavirus can be an invasive process. In most cases, a medical professional sticks a special swab up the nose that is flexible enough to get all the way to the back of the throat. Many people say it's uncomfortable and can also put healthcare workers at risk of getting infected.

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"If we can do something like this where a person can spit into a cup and find out if they have COVID or not, it really could be a game changer," said Dr. Ruth Ann Crystal, an adjunct faculty member at Stanford University School of Medicine, who has been monitoring the work that is being done nationwide to innovate COVID-19 testing.

Over the past week, Rutgers University in New Jersey received emergency approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to allow people to collect their own saliva at home and then send it off to a lab for results, similar to the process for a genealogy test.

"You can test a lot of people with saliva, it doesn't take any special person that has to draw blood, or has to use a swab," said Crystal, who also serves as physician lead for StartX, a non-profit startup accelerator and founder community associated with Stanford.

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The saliva test kits aren't the only items on the innovation front. For example, UCSF is working on a new CRISPR-based COVID-19 exam that can diagnose infection in less than an hour by using gene-targeting technology.

Crystal added, "For the CRISPR tests, it can use re-agents that are already in most laboratories, so it's a lot easier and probably less expensive."

The Stanford and the UCSF tests are currently going through trial runs, but if approved by the FDA, both could play a crucial role in getting America back to work.

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