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Health Ministry announces Israeli-developed faster PCR tests for virus diagnosis

Edelstein hails new technology that should speed up results

An Israeli laboratory worker conducts serological tests for coronavirus at the Leumit Health Care Services laboratory in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv on June 29, 2020. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
An Israeli laboratory worker conducts serological tests for coronavirus at the Leumit Health Care Services laboratory in Or Yehuda, near Tel Aviv on June 29, 2020. (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)

The Health Ministry announced on Monday that an Israeli-developed system would considerably cut the time it takes to process a PCR coronavirus test.

PCR tests — a polymerase chain reaction test — in which a sample taken from a nasal swab is sent for testing in a laboratory, are considered to be the most accurate form of COVID testing.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said in a statement that the new system was already defined as “operational” and would be rolled out to laboratories and hospitals in the coming weeks.

The ministry said the in-laboratory time required for a sample would be reduced through the use of new technology, which would introduce robotics into the process.

A young girl is tested for the coronavirus by a healthcare worker at a COVID-19 testing center set up at a basketball court, in Ramat Gan, Oct 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The transfer of the sample between test tubes would be mechanized and cut from an hour to just five minutes, the announcement said.

Inactivating the virus will be shortened from one hour to 40 minutes and the time for nucleic acid production will be cut from the current three hours to around one hour and 15 minutes.

The test itself will be shortened from two hours to an hour and the results software will process the data in just 10 seconds instead of the half hour it takes today.

The statement from the ministry did not state where the technology had been developed or if it was an amalgamation of work from a number of facilities.

“Israeli technology is breaking records time and time again. The world will be able to see the shortcuts as risk-reducing, more efficient, and, no less important than all that, based on Israeli products,” Edelstein said.

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein speaks during a press conference in Airport City on September 17, 2020 (Flash90)

More rapid or immediate tests look for antigens, or proteins found on the surface of the virus. They are generally considered less accurate — though much faster — than PCRs, which are higher-grade genetic tests. PCR tests require processing with specialty lab equipment and chemicals.

Widespread testing is seen by many as key to helping curb the spread of the virus, although health officials in Israel have sounded the alarm about the reduced numbers of people going to be sampled in recent weeks.

According to Health Ministry data on Monday, the rate of positive tests had risen from around two percent throughout last week to 2.9% on Saturday and 3.1% on Sunday.

The positivity rate was taken from a smaller number of tests — fewer than 8,000 on Saturday, as is typical for the weekend, when testing rates plummet, and 21,115 on Sunday — after days in which as many as 40,000 samples were examined.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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