My good friend is a biochemist in Charleston SC. He is a Johns Hopkins trained PhD in biochemistry. Find him at @DrMartyRomeo on Twitter.
He has developed a PCR method for detecting COVID that is extremely sensitive and is trying to get it tested in some southern states. His technique is 25-100x more sensitive than the ones that most labs are currently using. That means less false negative tests and less people who are carriers of the virus who slip through the cracks.
Below I outline current testing methods. They are based on technology called PCR.
PCR is a highly sensitive laboratory technique. A clinician will gather a nasal swab from a test patient. The swab is placed into some chemicals that dissolve any of the sample countered from the patient into a solution. Presumably in an infected patient there will be samples of virus RNA.
The technician places and enzyme called reverse transcriptase into the solution. The reverse transciptase binds onto any virus RNA that is present in the solution. After reacting with RNA the enzyme produces a copy of cDNA (complementary DNA) that can be tagged with a fluorescent probe. The probe essentially acts like a mini flashlight.
Because the cDNA probe is often extraordinarily small the PCR process is used to amplify the number of copies of this strand of material in the solution. If the cDNA that corresponds to the virus is in the solution, after multiple rounds of amplification (think multiplying this small fragment many times) a detector can pick up the signal from the mini flashlight within the solution.
Marty alerted us to a technique that he uses in the clinical laboratory, which would likely make testing much, more sensitive. Instead of testing one large drop of fluid he breaks the large drop of fluid into many small droplets. Instead if looking for a needle in a haystack think about looking for a needle in a Coke can. Once you run the amplification process it becomes much easier for the flashlight signal to get picked up by the detector.
The technique is called ddPCR. The machines that run these tests are all over the country but most are in research labs.
Marty and others have published their technique and have been trying to let the world know that this resource is available. The world should listen.