A cheaper, faster COVID-19 test

Researchers at Karolinska Institutet have developed a method for fast, cheap, yet accurate testing for COVID-19 infection. The method simplifies and frees the testing from expensive reaction steps, enabling upscaling of the diagnostics. This makes the method particularly attractive for places and situations with limited resources. It is equally interesting for repeated testing and for moving resources from expensive diagnostics to other parts of the care chain. The study is published in Nature Communications.

“We started working on the issue of developing a readily available testing method as soon as we saw the developments in Asia and southern Europe, and before the situation reached crisis point in Sweden,” says principal investigator Bjorn Reinius, research leader at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Biophysics at Karolinska Institutet. “Our method was effectively finished already by the end of April, and we then made all the data freely available online.”

The spread of the new coronavirus at the end of 2019 in China’s Wuhan region quickly escalated into a global pandemic. The relatively high transmission rate and the large number of asymptomatic infections led to a huge, world-wide need for fast, affordable and effective diagnostic tests that could be performed in clinical as well as non-clinical settings.

Established diagnostic tests for COVID-19 are based on the detection of viral RNA in patient samples, such as nasal and throat swabs, from which RNA molecules must then be extracted and purified. RNA purification constitutes a major bottleneck for the testing process, requiring a great deal of equipment and logistics as well as expensive chemical compounds.

Making the current methods simpler without markedly compromising their accuracy means that more and faster testing can be carried out, which would help to reduce the rate of transmission and facilitate earlier-stage care.

The cross-departmental research group at Karolinska Institutet has now developed methods that completely circumvent the RNA-extraction procedure, so that once the patient sample has been inactivated by means of heating, rendering the virus particles no longer infectious, it can pass straight to the diagnostic reaction that detects the presence of the virus.

According to the researchers, the most important keys to the method’s success are both the above virus inactivation procedure and a new formulation of the solution used to collect and transport the sample material taken from the patients.

“By replacing the collection buffer with simple and inexpensive buffer formulations, we can enable viral detection with high sensitivity directly from the original clinical sample, without any intermediate steps,” says Dr Reinius.

Institutions and research groups around the world have shown great interest in the method since a first version of the scientific article was published on the preprint server medRxiv. The article was read more than 15,000 times even before it was peer-reviewed by other researchers in the field and officially published in Nature Communications.

“Thanks to the low cost and the simplicity of the method, it becomes a particularly attractive option at sites and in situations with limited resources but a pressing need to test for COVID-19,” he says and adds: “I would certainly like to see that this test used in Sweden too, for example for cheap periodic testing of asymptomatic people to eliminate the spread of infection.”

The study was supported by grants from the Wallenberg Foundations via the SciLifeLab/KAW National COVID-19 Research Program and from the Ragnar Soderberg Foundation.

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Wolf Administration Reminds Pennsylvanians To Be Counted in 2020 Census – PA Department of Community & Economic Development

Harrisburg, PA – Today, Second Lady of Pennsylvania Gisele Fetterman joined Agriculture Secretary Russell Redding, Executive Director of the Governor’s 2020 Census Complete Count Commission Norman Bristol Colon, the York County Food Bank, and ABC27 Hometown Hero fifth grader Miriam March to discuss the importance of being counted in the 2020 U.S. Census.

“Every Pennsylvanian counts, and we should all be counted in the 2020 Census,” said Fetterman. “So many critical services, just like those provided by the York County Food Bank, rely on a complete and accurate Census count. Simply put, more services and resources will be available to York County if more York Countians fill out their Census questionnaires.”

As of September 14, 2020, In Pennsylvania, 68.5 percent of residents have already self-responded to the 2020 Census, 2.6 percent higher than the national average. In York County, approximately 100,000 residents have not responded.

“Roads, water and sewer systems, healthcare, education, rental assistance, business loans, Cooperative Extension and broadband – the things that draw people to your area and keep them there – depend on information gathered in the U.S. Census,” said Redding, “The Census is your chance to be counted, to be heard, and to be represented fairly in Congress.”

Pennsylvania’s goal is to ensure that all residents respond to the Census, as a low response rate will impact federal funding and representation. Census data is used to decide how $675 billion in federal public funding is spent every year. Pennsylvania receives $26.8 billion annually through its 16 largest federally-funded programs, or about $2,000 per Pennsylvanian each year.

“Despite being in the middle of a global pandemic, Pennsylvania remains committed to encouraging residents to respond to the 2020 Census as it determines our state’s funding for the next 10 years,” said Norman Bristol Colon, Executive Director for the Governor’s 2020 Census Complete Count Commission. “We need everyone’s help to ensure that our communities receive their fair share of federal public funding and influence.

Recently, the deadline to respond to the 2020 Census has changed from October 31, 2020, to September 30, 2020. It is imperative now, more than ever, that all Pennsylvanians are counted in the 2020 Census.

This year marks the 22nd occasion of the United States Census, and commonwealth residents began receiving invitations to respond to the 2020 Census at the beginning of March. Pennsylvanians can respond online, by phone, or by mail, and this year marks the first time in history that responses can be filled out online.

“The York County Food Bank understands that a fair and accurate count is key to addressing hunger in our region,” said Jennifer Brillhart, President & CEO of the York County Food Bank. “The 2020 Census provides a chance to shape our nation’s future and we encourage everyone to participate.”

The Census questionnaire is confidential and straightforward, with questions that include name, address, sex, race, ethnicity, age, and whether you own or rent your home. The Census Bureau will never ask about your citizenship status or sensitive information like your Social Security number, bank accounts, or payments/donations. The Census Bureau will never reach out to you on behalf of a political party. Your responses to the Census are protected by law and cannot be shared with, or used by, any other government agencies. Answers cannot be used for law enforcement purposes or to determine eligibility for government benefits or immigration enforcement.

The United States Constitution requires a Census count once every 10 years and counts every person living in the United States once and only once. The results of the 2020 Census will help provide fair representation when determining congressional districts, policy, decision-making, and distribution of billions of dollars in federal funding that impacts the daily lives of Pennsylvanians over the next 10 years.

For more information about the U.S. Census, visit the PA Census website. For more information about the Department of Community and Economic Development, visit the DCED website, and be sure to stay up-to-date with all of our agency news on Facebook