Rutgers team develops rapid screening test for Omicron and other COVID variants

A team at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School has developed a rapid test that detects all known COVID-19 variants, including the highly transmissible Omicron variant.

Using special probes called “sloppy molecular beacons,” the test can detect clinical samples that contain the SARS-CoV-2 virus with signature mutations for each known variant of concern — namely, the Alpha, Beta, Gamma and Omicron variants.

The Rutgers study appeared this week in the preprint journal MedRxiv, which publishes research that is not yet peer reviewed.

The study demonstrates that the approach is 100% sensitive and specific for identifying the correct variant when tested on clinical samples.

David Alland, director of the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School Public Health Research Institute and the Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness within the Rutgers Biomedical Health Sciences Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases, developed the test along with project leader Padmapriya Banada, working with Patricia Soteropoulos, Raquel Green and Deanna Streck.

“Our approach is unusually flexible in being able to detect unanticipated mutations,” Alland said. “We had recently improved an older version of the assay, so that it could detect the Delta variant, but, when Omicron appeared, we suspected that it would be able to specifically identify this variant as well, and we are happy to find that our testing shows that we were correct.”

The Rutgers Genomics Center clinical lab team — Soteropoulos, Streck and James Dermody — are now working to obtain rapid approval from the New Jersey Department of Health to use the new test on patients, where it could help determine the correct type of antibody therapy and potentially help identify patients at high risk for severe COVID-19.