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Hebrew University Researchers Develop COVID-19 Test that is Significantly Faster and Cheaper

A team of 15 researchers and students from the Hebrew University and Hadassah Medical Center have developed a faster and cheaper way to test COVID-19. The team is now working on finding a method that will allow testing over 15,000 people simultaneously.

Media outlets around the world have reported a shortage of COVID-19 testing reagents. This shortage slows down the rate of testing and increases the rate of infection, as thousands of undiagnosed patients walk around, unknowingly infecting healthy and at-risk populations. Prof. Nir Friedman at Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU)’s Institute of Life Sciences and School of Engineering and Computer Science and Dr. Naomi Habib at HU’s Edmond and Lily Safra Center for Brain Science (ELSC) have developed a way to test COVID-19 using materials commonly found in diagnostic labs. They have performed hundreds of tests on swab samples at the Ein Kerem Hospital – Hadassah Medical Center and the results they received were identical to those found by the kits currently being used.

Testing for COVID-19 currently involves extracting RNA molecules from a patient’s swab sample to see whether they contain viral RNA that confirms the presence of the COVID-19 virus.  The new method developed by Friedman and Habib can do the same thing, only faster.  As Habib shared, “The RNA extraction protocol we developed is four-to-ten times faster than the current protocol.  It’s based on magnetic beads and works both robotically and manually. The robotic protocol has already been tested at Hadassah Hospital and is now fully operational.”

The researchers are now moving fast toward the development of an innovative method that would allow for tens of thousands of samples to be tested simultaneously instead of the current rate of thousands of tests. Prof. Friedman and Dr. Habib are collaborating with Prof. Yuval Dor from HU’s Faculty of Medicine and Prof Dana Wolf of Hadassah Medical Center on this groundbreaking research. The efforts are led by Masha Adam and Danny Kitsberg. Among the team members are Anna-Kristina Schmidtner, Malka Nissim-Rafinia and Hagit Turn from ELSC.

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