Columbia’s Rapid, At-Home COVID-19 Test Wins Support from NYC

A rapid, at-home COVID-19 test under development in the laboratory of David Ho, MD, the Clyde’56 and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons, will receive funding from the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The funding will accelerate deployment of the test, called CoV-SCAN.

The project is the first winner of NYCEDC’s Rapid Testing Innovation Competition, which is dedicated to designing reliable and inexpensive tests for COVID-19.

Why is an inexpensive rapid test needed?

A rapid and inexpensive test would help the city and nation reopen the economy until a majority of citizens have been vaccinated.

“If used frequently, and particularly close to the time a person enters a crowded place, such testing would be a very powerful way to prevent the spread of the virus from people who do not have symptoms and do not know they are infectious,” says Ho, who is also director of the Aaron Diamond AIDS Research Center at Columbia University.

Such testing would be useful for college students living in dormitories, for example, or employees who cannot work from home.

Approximately 50% of SARS-CoV-2 infections are spread by people who carry the virus and are infectious but have no symptoms.

Though at-home COVID-19 tests are now available, most involve sending a sample to a laboratory for PCR testing, and results are only available after two or more days. True at-home tests that can give results in less than 30 minutes currently cost at least $25 per test.


Test designed to identify people who can spread the virus

The test developed in Ho’s lab utilizes the same type of lateral-flow technology used by home pregnancy tests. 

A liquid sample from a nasal swab is applied to the paper test strip; a colored line will appear 15-20 minutes later if antibodies embedded in the strip detect a protein made by the virus. 

The test is designed to identify people who carry high levels of the virus and are capable of infecting other people. The test is less able to detect infections in people carrying low levels of virus who are in the early or waning stages of infection and are unlikely to be infectious.

“Though the rapid test is not as sensitive as the PCR test,” Ho says, “it is much faster, cheaper, and simpler. These properties will allow us to test frequently, even daily or multiple times a day, without having to face the lag in getting results back.”

Ho’s team is currently validating the test, which can also detect new variants of the virus, before applying for Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.