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MSU doctor creates COVID-19 test with quick results, pending FDA approval

April 6, 2020
<p> A Michigan State University Health Team member preparing to test incoming patients April 2, 2020. </p>

A Michigan State University Health Team member preparing to test incoming patients April 2, 2020.

Photo by Di'Amond Moore | The State News

A Michigan State doctor announced a new test for COVID-19 that might produce results within minutes — if approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

“I was able to inactivate the virus and use the genetic material inside to run my test, and it worked,” said Dr. Brett Etchebarne, MSU assistant professor of emergency medicine. “The answer is done in like seven minutes, so it’s super-duper fast.”

“Dr. Etchebarne’s novel test uses isothermal amplification to accurately identify coronavirus in patients with suspected infections,” Dr. Christina Chan, division chief of biomedical devices at MSU, said in an email.

Isothermal amplification is the replication of DNA sequences, according to the Journal of Microbiology.

Etchebarne said he used isothermal amplification to quickly seek out COVID-19 in target areas of DNA.

“We made synthetic constructs of the virus,” he said. “From there, we designed special primers, pieces of DNA that amplify specific regions of interest.”

By using the DNA of a consenting patient who had previously tested positive for COVID-19, Etchebarne said he was able to verify the results using the test.

The test works in two ways, he said.

The first is with a real-time PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, unit a machine Etchebarne defined as, "A digital thermocycler that gives you a readout of amplification of your target of interest."

He said this machine can produce results in about 10 minutes.

The second, he said, takes about 30 minutes because he must manually observe the sample’s color change after heating up the DNA sample.

Etchebarne said the test has not been approved by the FDA, but said he hopes to submit it for approval soon.

“Things move fast, but they also move kind of slow,” he said. “It could be submitted for FDA approval, and then hopefully get an expedited review allowing for broad use.”

According to Emergency Physicians Monthly, Etchebarne has formerly created other tests to quickly diagnose additional pathogens in patients, including E. coli and Staphylococcus.

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