Rutgers University scientists develop test to track COVID-19 variants

Cases of COVID-19 are creeping back up again in New Jersey. State officials announced nearly 3,500 cases on Thursday – a number not seen since February. The situation at state hospitals is also getting worse, with patients now surpassing 600. This is up nearly 120 patients from five days ago.
A majority of the state has said goodbye to mask mandates, which has led to an increase in cases. Montclair High School recently re-implemented its mask mandate following an uptick in cases.
And eight counties in the state are now at a medium transmission rate.
But amid these growing numbers, scientists at Rutgers University have developed a test that detects different variants. They developed the test using “molecular beacons” – a technology created in the 1990s that is currently being used in PCR tests.
“We used an adaptation of the molecular beacon in order to specifically look at the differences between the variants meaning it will only give a signal if a certain variant is there,” says Ryan Dikdan.
Dikdan is one of the lead researchers and explains that most PCR COVID-19 tests only detect the presence of the virus without identifying a particular strain which is useful for tracking where the variant spread.
“It's also useful for determining which variant someone has which can impact how they're treated. Certain antibody treatments only work against certain variants of the virus,” Dikdan says.
Dikdan says the test is adaptable to emerging variants and can be run on millions of samples to track the movement of new variants that could be a potential public health concern.
“When we noticed the variants becoming a problem, we knew that we had at least part of a solution to track it, which could help medically and epidemiologically,” he says.
The scientists say they plan to share the technology with other labs and testing companies so that crucial variant information is readily available.