UCLA Develops Faster, Cheaper Coronavirus Testing

SwabSeq testing platform to be rolled out after FDA approval

Scientists at UCLA Health will soon be using a new coronavirus testing technology capable of assessing thousands of individual samples for COVID-19 simultaneously and producing accurate results in 12 to 24 hours.

The SwabSeq testing platform, developed collaboratively by UCLA researchers and a UCLA-founded startup, is quicker and less expensive than the widely used polymerase chain reaction method, which requires extracting RNA from samples and can take days to process, the scientists said.

“This is a technological breakthrough that will dramatically increase the amount of COVID-19 testing while reducing the wait time for results and costs,” said Dr. John Mazziotta, vice chancellor for UCLA Health Sciences and CEO of UCLA Health.

SwabSeq takes a person’s saliva and attaches a type of molecular “bar code” to each sample, allowing scientists to combine large batches of samples together in a sequencing machine and rapidly identify those that have the virus. The testing method, which received emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration on Oct. 6, can also be applied to nasal and oral COVID-19 testing samples and can be scaled up easily, according to the researchers.

“SwabSeq is highly scalable because it leverages two decades of advances in genomic sequencing technology,” said Eleazar Eskin, chair of UCLA’s Department of Computational Medicine, who was part of the research team that the developed the new platform. “Using SwabSeq, a relatively small lab can process tens of thousands of samples per day.”

The UCLA scientists have been leading a coalition of academic and industrial labs around the country and the world in developing the technology and scaling up testing.

“UCLA has been at the forefront of taking SwabSeq from an initial technology to validating its use in large-scale testing of real patients,” said Sriram Kosuri, a UCLA assistant professor of chemistry and biochemistry and co-founder and CEO of the startup Octant, which created the technology on which SwabSeq is based. “We jump-started a whole community of researchers now using the technique to help bring people back to work and school.”

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