Advanced Computing in the Age of AI|Monday, September 28, 2020
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New Tool Emerges to Speed COVID Test Results 

Efforts to accelerate SARS-CoV-2 testing results got a boost this week with the unveiling of a series of workstations advertised as capable of preparing and running thousands of COVID-19 tests per day.

PerkinElmer Inc., (NYSE:PKI) the diagnostics and informatics specialist, said Monday (Aug. 17) its Explorer series of workstations would allow labs to ramp up testing capacity and generate results faster. The company said its platform is capable of generating as many as 10,000 COVID-19 test results per day.

According to a study released earlier this month, the national average wait time for COVID nasal swab test results is four days. “Our findings indicate that the United States is not currently performing testing with nearly enough speed,” the study authors warned.

Along with the anxiety of waiting several days for test results, long waits for COVID testing results also delays response that contributes to further spread of the virus.

PerkinElmer’s response is a scalable workstation designed to streamline workflows for SARS-CoV-2, RT-PCR and ELISA testing. Real-Time Reverse Transcriptase testing is frequently used for season influenza. Enzyme-Linked Immunoassay is used to detect antibodies in the blood.

PerkinElmer said its workstations would also help reduce errors like false positives while automating and standardizing steps in the COVID-19 testing workflow. Along with the testing workstations, those workflows also require reagents as well as the ability to automate diagnostics steps to accelerate test results.

“Laboratories need to be able to rapidly scale their testing capacity up and down,” said Masoud Toloue, vice president and general manager of PerkinElmer’s diagnostics unit. The workstations would give “laboratories the flexibility they need to meet the ever-changing COVID-19 testing demand.”

PerkinElmer, Waltham, Mass., notes that is modular workstations also can be repurposed to automate other laboratory processes if and when demand for COVID-19 test declines.

The recent survey of testing wait-times found that 63 percent of those tested are not receiving results in the two days considered optimal for contact tracing. Twenty-one percent received test results in five or more days, too late to be of “any significant assistance in helping to control the spread of COVID-19,” the study found.

Waiting times were even longer for African Americans and Hispanic Americans, communities that have borne the brunt of the pandemic.

Along with automating laboratory testing, the U.S. Food & Drug Administration is also reviewing at-home tests similar to pregnancy tests. At-home tests are considered less sensitive than lab tests, generating greater false negative rates.

About the author: George Leopold

George Leopold has written about science and technology for more than 30 years, focusing on electronics and aerospace technology. He previously served as executive editor of Electronic Engineering Times. Leopold is the author of "Calculated Risk: The Supersonic Life and Times of Gus Grissom" (Purdue University Press, 2016).

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