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University of Oregon researchers use spit to test for COVID-19

Researchers at the university are leading the effort to develop a new less invasive, less costly and simpler COVID-19 test.

EUGENE, Ore. — Getting a test for COVID-19 is once again becoming a challenge. With surges around the county, commercial labs are strained. But the University of Oregon is working on a way to offer thousands of tests a day by testing saliva.

Right now, if you get a COVID-19 test, you'll likely be getting a nasal swab. But in the next month or so getting tested for the virus could be as easy as spitting.

"To use it in sort of layman's terms – spitting in a cup," said Cassandra Moseley. Moseley is the interim vice president for research and innovation at the UO.

She believes saliva might just be the future of COVID testing."The appeal is that it's an approach that... is easier to collect, people can do it themselves," she said. 

Moseley is leading the effort at UO to develop a new less invasive, less costly and simpler COVID-19 test.

"We collect saliva from people in a really straight forward method," she said.

That saliva is then put into a machine called a next generation sequencer. The university normally uses for it for genetics research.  But it can also identify the presence of the Covid-19 virus. And it can do it very efficiently.

"Our current goal for our lab is that we could be able to process 9,000 tests a day," Moseley said. 

And results could come back in as early as a day. "This is just one of a global effort to figure out how we can better trace and track and test our way out of this," she said.

The university has been gathering saliva and nasal samples in both Lane and Marion counties.

In order to get approval from the Food and Drug Administration to start conducting the saliva test, the researchers have to prove it works just as well as the nasal swab.

They expect to get FDA approval in the next four to six weeks. It won't be the first research university to look at saliva testing. But it does have the rights tools to do it now.

"It's not like this is an option for anybody to do." said Moseley. "This is an option that research universities have an opportunity to... re-purpose for this moment."

WATCH: COVID-19 testing struggles in Oregon