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Stowers Institute developing faster COVID testing

The Examiner staff

The Stowers Institute in Kansas City is developing what it says should be a faster, cheaper way to test for COVID-19.

“... the plan is to take components that others have developed and recombine them in a way so that the process works in a much more automated fashion so it works faster and cheaper with the same accuracy,” Dr. David Chao, president and CEO of the Stowers Institute, told Jackson County legislators this week.

Stowers plans to let anyone with the capacity – expensive robots are needed but some facilities have them, Chao said – to use the new protocol for free. Legislators took action to help shield Stowers from liability if there were bad outcomes from others using its process.

Chao said 49 volunteers have been working on the project, at Stowers’ expense, since March. He said Stowers is about a month away from going to the federal Food and Drug Administration for emergency approval of the new protocol.

The institute has had two main areas of focus:

• Test using saliva rather than swabs. Swabs inserted into the nose are commonly used now. The saliva samples could even be taken at home, making the process easier.

• Automation, meaning tests can be processed more quickly.

Currently COVID testing has bottlenecks, including the availability of reagents to process samples in the labs. Officials at Monday’s meeting said test results are taking up to two weeks to come back.

“We believe,” Chao said, “that having an automated process like ours, which has a lot more capacity, would take away that line at the front of the process and allow samples to be returned much more quickly.”

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