ASU expanding saliva-based COVID-19 testing by using robots

If you've done the test before, you know how smooth the process is. You're given a straw to funnel your saliva into a tube until you meet a certain threshold.

The sample is then sent to a lab where results are provided within a day or two, thanks to robotics and other devices.

It's a formula that's proven to be successful so far that was created by the experts at Arizona State University's Biodesign Institute.

"Our labs have shifted from the early days when we were using the nasal swabs to using saliva and we find that that allows us to collect much more samples in a short period of time," said Dr. Joshua LaBaer, Executive Director of the Biodesign Institute.

The process involves a team of people and the right equipment.

Coronavirus in Arizona: Latest case numbers

“First step, is we cook the samples to make sure to kill any live viruses in them, and then we get the samples out of the individual tubes and into blocks and then run them through the automation," explained LaBaer.

LaBaer says what has helped to speed up the process is running over 350 samples simultaneously.

"We take four groups of 96 and combine it together into one plate of 384 and put that in our instrument for reading out the answer so things get handled from one robot to another robot to another robot so that multi-step process is how we get to the answer."

MAP: Arizona Coronavirus cases by zip code

The results are usually released to the patient within 24 to 48 hours after testing. The plan is to expand the testing platform within the next month.

“We are installing more robots to be able to run more samples through that pipeline and generally speaking we are building a whole new laboratory so that we can expand the process of all this testing," said LaBaer.

LaBaer says the goal is to process 16,000 tests a day by mid-August.


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LIST: Coronavirus testing locations in Arizona

In Arizona, if you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can contact the following healthcare companies about getting a test:

In order to protect yourself from a possible infection, the CDC recommends: 

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a cloth face cover when around others
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Monitor your health daily