A NEW Covid test could use saliva samples to detect the disease with the accuracy of a PCR test but the simplicity of a lateral flow device.

Instead of providing nasal and throat swabs, participants spit into a tube instead and hand the samples in for analysis.

Researchers at Edinburgh University are trialling the potential screening tool on students but, if successful, the technology could be extended to help workplaces, schools and leisure venues to open up safely.

Scientists leading the TestEd project are using an innovative approach called hypercube sample pooling which processes dozens of saliva samples for PCR testing at once. This saves time and money while maintaining accuracy.

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Existing PCR tests are highly accurate but samples are normally taken at a test site and sent to a lab for individual analysis, which makes them costly.

They are also aimed at people with symptoms so do not capture true prevalence of Covid-19 in the community.

Rapid lateral flow tests can be carried out at home by people with no symptoms, but are more likely to return a false negative result.


The new approach uses the same accurate lab analysis as the standard PCR tests, but saves money and resources by pooling samples while negating the need for swabs. Results are available within 24 hours.

TestEd, which launched in January, aims to detect infections before symptoms appear to minimise the risk of transmission.

The study will offer all students and staff at the University twice-weekly testing, especially as they return to campus in the autumn term.

Since the project began on January 11, it has carried out more than 18,000 tests and recently won a £1.8 million grant from the Medical Research Council to scale up its capacity and prove that its testing system works.

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Senior Vice-Principal Professor Jonathan Seckl said: “The pandemic has been in a phase of relatively low levels of infection in the community, but cases are now increasing and Covid-19 remains a serious risk to health.

"Therefore having a non-invasive, accurate and affordable method to screen large groups of people in the workplace or centres of education is a high priority. ”

TestEd Chief Investigator Professor Tim Aitman said the test could be "transformative"in helping society return to normal safely.

He said: “The rise in cases caused by the Delta variant and the subsequent pause in the easing of restrictions are a timely reminder that we will be living with this disease for some time.

"Against this backdrop, TestEd addresses three key challenges of Covid-19 testing to keep workplaces safe: its ease of use makes it highly acceptable to people, its pooling of samples makes it affordable, and its use of PCR technology maintains high levels of accuracy."