If you do a home COVID test or get a PCR test at a pharmacy you will find out if you have COVID, but you won’t know what type of variant has infected you, which can impact what kind of treatment you get.

Until now, that is.

Scientists at Rutgers University, using molecular beacon technology, have developed a lab test that can quickly and easily identify which variant of the virus has made someone sick.

Lead researcher Ryan Dikdan, a doctoral candidate, said this is important because “some of the treatments, notably antibody treatments, certain ones work better against different variants.”

He noted “people might have heard of BA2 or BA1 or BA1.1, they’re all just different variants of omicron, and some of the current antibody treatments do or don’t work against those variants.”

How did they do this?

“We’ve designed the test to look at certain parts of the virus that are uniquely different across the different variants," he said.

Dikdan said details of the new test have been published in The Journal of Molecular Diagnostics, including directions for how to employ the so-called molecular beacons.

“In essence the recipe for how to make it, so anyone can just buy the pieces for it, and then put it together and run it.”

This technique seeks out specific molecules that carry genetic information to make proteins that will reveal the type of variant that shows up. He said the team at Rutgers is working with a diagnostics company to offer this kind of test commercially.

Covid-19 Testing Facilities At Schiphol Airport
Getty Images

Tracking COVID

Dikdan said using this kind of test will not only help determine what is the best kind of treatment for the variant that is detected but “you could also then use the variant information to kind of track the development of different variants, where it’s spreading which one is taking over.”

He said as we move forward this will be extremely important because if we know “how the virus is evolving, we know what the virus is doing and how it’s changing over time, then we’ll best know how to treat it.”

Dikdan developed the test with Sanjay Tyagi, a professor of medicine at the Public Health Research Institute at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

David Matthau is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at david.matthau@townsquaremedia.com

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