SARS antibody could lead to rapid testing for COVID-19: NHRI

CNA file photo
CNA file photo

TAIPEI (CNA) — A SARS antibody could be used to develop a rapid diagnostic test for the coronavirus responsible for COVID-19, National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) Vice President Sytwu Huey-kang (司徒惠康) said Wednesday.

Rapid diagnostic tests are often used in Taiwan for flu screening. The test involves inserting a cotton swab into the patient’s nose to collect fluid samples, then placing the swab onto a test strip, which changes color depending on what strain of flu the patient is infected with.

Results can usually be obtained in 10-15 minutes, which is much faster than the four-hour testing method currently used to determine COVID-19 patients, Sytwu said.

Having a rapid diagnostic test for COVID-19 would allow doctors to screen patients quickly and in large numbers, he added.

As the test works by using antibodies to detect certain structures found on the surface of viruses, called antigens, the first step in developing such a test for COVID-19 is to find an antibody that reacts to it, according to Sytwu.

Based on research conducted by the NHRI, an antigen on the surface of the SARS virus, which triggers the production of a certain antibody, can also be found on the COVID-19 coronavirus, Sytwu said.

Theoretically, therefore, this SARS antibody could react in the presence of the COVID-19 coronavirus, and could be used to develop a rapid diagnostic test, Sytwu said.

The NHRI applied two weeks ago to Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control for a sample of the virus so they can test their theory, which they should be receiving in the next two days, Sytwu said, adding that preliminary results could come out in two to three weeks.

Sytwu stressed, however, that even if their experiments prove successful, more samples will be needed in order to determine the accuracy of the test, as well as permission that will have to be obtained from the Food and Drug Administration before it can be used commercially.

The accuracy rate for the rapid influenza diagnostic test is 50 percent to 60 percent, Sytwu added.