This post originally appeared on Forbes
SalivaDirect sounds like a bank that can quickly give you lots of saliva. But thankfully it isn’t.
It’s now the fifth saliva test that has received such authorization from the FDA. What makes this test unique is that you don’t have to take an extra step to separate the genetic material or nucleic acid from the sample. Therefore, to perform the test labs don’t need special nucleic acid extraction kits, which have been, surprise, surprise, in short supply during the pandemic.
Oh, and the NBA has been involved in the development and testing of SalivaDirect. No, not the National Bank of Azerbaijan but the National Basketball Association. More on this later.
A new authorized saliva test should be good news if you happen to not like having long cotton swabs stuck up your nose or to the back of throat, the so-called nasopharyngeal (NP) and oropharyngeal (OP) tests. You may happen to like the feeling up a cotton swab doing the Futsal Shuffle dance into your brain. But most people don’t. Plus, saliva tests don’t require cotton swabs, which are in short supply along with toilet paper and basically every thing else that’s been needed during this pandemic.
More saliva tests being available can help health care workers too. After all, NP does not stand for no problemo. Unless six-foot long cotton swabs are used, health care workers typically have to get quite close to people’s noses and mouths to perform the more traditional NP tests. Being less than one Denzel Washington (Washington is about six feet tall) away from patients can put health care workers at greater risk for getting infected. Saliva tests then would allow health care workers to stay at least one Denzel away while simply providing a receptacle for patients to spit into and return.
By the way, they’ve dubbed this NBA study the SWISH study. SWISH stands for Surveillance with Improved Screening and Health. After all, the most important part of a medical study is coming up with a cool acronym.
The challenge with saliva tests is that they may yield variable performance. The virus, which typically infects and reproduces in your respiratory tract, has to make its way into your saliva. Additionally, the amount of saliva that you produce can vary quite significantly depending on a range of different factors such as the distance that you happen to be from avocado toast at the time. Moreover, lots of other stuff can be in a spit sample such as hot dog fragments.
Keep in mind though that a pre-print has not gone through peer-review and has not been published in a reputable pee-reviewed scientific journal yet. In other words, it’s still in the scientific version of pre-game warm ups rather than true prime time. So take all of the results with a Giannis Antetokounmpo statue-full of salt.
In order to make the testing more widely available, the Yale team is making the testing protocol “open source,” a pretty darn cool idea. That means laboratories can follow the available protocol without having to use any special proprietary equipment or testing components. The research team has a established a web site with details about the test. The test is relatively inexpensive too, costing between $1.29 and $4.37 per sample, according to the pre-print publication. That’s less than a scalp massager or or a geometric triangle hair clip on Amazon AMZN -0.4%.
It seems like people can get results back pretty quickly. In the following tweet thread, Yale team member Anne Wyllie, PhD, an Associate Research Scientist in Epidemiology, described the test turnaround test time:
Agree. Turnaround matters. Wish we had assumed 24 instead of 8 hours. However, much faster, more convenient, saliva-based tests are on the way. Right @awyllie13 ?
— A. David Paltiel (@ADPaltiel) August 2, 2020
3 hour turnaround sounds pretty good to me! Good test characteristics? When available?
— Cary Gross (@cpgYALE) August 3, 2020