UCLA Dentistry receives funding to develop a saliva-based COVID-19 infection and antibody test

Posted on: Tuesday, 10/06/2020

One of only 31 organizations from 3000+ applicants to receive the National Institutes of Health award


The UCLA School of Dentistry recently received funding to develop and clinically validate a rapid response, saliva-based test to detect both active COVID-19 infection as well as the virus’ antibodies.

Dr. David Wong, professor of oral biology at the UCLA School of Dentistry and salivary diagnostics pioneer, was one of 31 entities out of 3,000 applications to receive funding from the National Institutes of Health to accelerate newer, more efficient testing technologies to significantly increase the number, type and availability of tests by millions per week. His lab received a $300,000 grant as part of the NIH’s Rapid Accelerated Diagnostic (RADx) initiative, which awarded a total of $240 million.

“Developing a rapid, point-of-care test to detect the novel coronavirus would eliminate the numerous bottlenecks that our healthcare system faces and would streamline our country’s testing capabilities,” Wong said. “This noninvasive, user-friendly saliva test is especially amenable for use in nursing homes and for other vulnerable populations. It also poses little risk to healthcare providers.”

The test requires a saliva swab from an individual suspected of having the coronavirus or a past infection into Wong’s EFIRM technology (electric field-induced release and measurement), to detect the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the saliva’s ribonucleic acid (RNA), which carries the virus’ genetic code.

The EFIRM machine can identify antibodies in asymptomatic individuals. Up until this point, detection of antibodies has been exclusively blood-based, which can be invasive and requires a phlebotomist thereby adding additional risk of infecting a healthcare worker. To Wong’s knowledge, his platform is the first in saliva to demonstrate reliable detection of host immunity in COVID-19 patients.

The UCLA School of Dentistry is currently collaborating with various departments at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, including Infectious Diseases and Pathology. Additional researchers at the dental school are Samantha Chiang, MD; Feng Li,PhD; and Fang Wei, PhD.