MSU Doctor develops rapid results test for COVID-19

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East Lansing, Mich. (WLNS)– Medical experts are scrambling for answers as cases of COVID-19 continue to rise rapidly. That includes trying to figure out how to speed up testing.

“My goal has been as a researcher to bridge the gap of the time it takes to get those results and try to make it simple and cost-effective with obvious answers that doctors then can make really good clinical decisions,” Brett Etchebarne, an Assistant Professor of Emergency Medicine at Michigan State University said.

After a slow start, COVID-19 testing has ramped up in recent weeks, but some patients are still waiting days to get their results. So, why does it take so long?

“I would say it’s the platforms that are available and how many tests they can do at once and the staff that is available to get the samples processed,” Etchebarne said.

Etchebarne has focused his research over the years on a test that produces rapid results. He currently works in a research lab at MSU’s IQ Bioengineering building with his Lab Manager Zenggang Li. Etchebarne said he’s developed a test works for COVID-19.

“We just basically made a simplified test for the COVID using our usual molecular methods,” Etchebarne said.

Etchebarne tested a woman on Monday evening in his research lab, who had previously received positive test results from an area hospital. He said it was easier to perform the test, knowing she was positive. When his own results were consistent, he knew the test worked.

“We don’t make any clinical decisions off of that as it’s really not again an FDA approved sort of test, but in her case, she was already known to be positive with COVID so she was willing to help us out with development of testing,” Etchebarne said.

Etchebarne said his method shows results in just a half-hour– sometimes even sooner. Developing the test, however, is only half the battle.

“First you have to have the test developed, then you have to have the test tested in the CLIA space and then you can have it submitted,” Etchebarne said.

The next step for him is getting an approved lab. Then he’ll need FDA certification. Perhaps the biggest hurdle though is getting labs to implement new systems.

“I think just when the whole system is stressed it’s difficult for the clinical laboratory spaces to absorb new things and take the risks of trying new technologies,” Etchebarne said.

Even if those labs don’t adopt those new technologies now, Etchebarne hopes the work that he and other researchers are doing now, will prepare everyone for the future.

“The time is getting close when I think our capabilities will be really strong for infectious disease diagnostics and as bad as this COVID is I think it’s going to spurn more technologies.”

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