One of the most talked-about issues to come out of the coronavirus pandemic has been testing. Why is it so hard to get a COVID-19 test in the U.S.? How accurate are they, really? Why does it take so long to get results?
One big roadblock experts are dealing with is that as many as 50% of people with coronavirus don't show symptoms. These carriers are probably major sources of the spread of the virus. They don't realize they're sick, so they leave their homes and pass the illness on to people around them. And because they don't have a fever, a cough, or any other signs of illness, they don't seek out testing.
That's part of the reason why Ian Lipkin, MD, the world’s leading infectious-disease epidemiologist, and researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health have developed what they call the C3 Test. It's a nasal swab like other coronavirus tests, but it's meant to detect precise viral load. That could make it uniquely useful at diagnosing asymptomatic people, who may have very low viral loads, but are still able to infect others.
"The C3 Test is able to detect really low levels of viral RNA, which means that even if you have a little bit of coronavirus, it'll still know that you have it," a spokesperson for the Mailman School of Public Health tells Refinery29. "It cuts down not only on false negatives but it also cuts down false positives. So if you have the flu or something else, you're not as likely to get a false positive, which means that people who don't have COVID-19 don't have to be quarantined for no reason."
What's more, because the C3 Test measures viral load so precisely, it can be used to show how someone is responding to treatment, which can help move us closer to finding a cure for COVID-19. Another benefit? The C3 Test offers results in just four hours.
Current tests have a high rate of false negative results, reports The New York Times. "The C3 Test runs on a platform that is considered the gold standard," explains Gary Miller, PhD, vice dean for research strategy and innovation at Mailman School, where the research is being conducted. "It is the same system as recommended by CDC, but the C3 Test is superior due to its multiplex design."
The creators of this test hope that ultimately, as many people as possible are able to use it, whether they're showing symptoms of COVID-19 or not. "It is crucial we expand our testing to include those who may be infected and spread the disease without symptoms," the Mailman School of Public Health's website states. More widespread, accurate testing can help individuals figure out how to take care of their own health, and will allow experts to come up with more targeted and effective treatment plans.
Normally, a lab would apply for funding from the government or Columbia University for medical tests. But in this case, the researchers have turned to crowdfunding. The team behind the C3 Test launched a campaign via Indiegogo with the goal of raising $1 million, which would allow them to test 1,000 samples a day.
Those who wish to support the making of the C3 Test can donate as little as $10 or $25. Currently, $423,549 has been collected through the platform, along with a $100,000 contribution from PepsiCo and $250,000 from off-platform donors. This approach maximizes the funding that goes directly to these efforts and this lab, according to the test's campaign.
Crowdfunding for medical ventures and expenses is becoming more and more common. "I do believe that the applications for crowdfunding in healthcare will continue to increase," Cyrus Massoumi, a member of the Mailman School’s Board and founder of ZocDoc tells Refinery29. "We’ve already seen crowdfunding become a form of social security for Americans who have nowhere else to turn. Technology is the only thing that can help us fill the gap."
COVID-19 has been declared a global pandemic. Go to the CDC website for the latest information on symptoms, prevention, and other resources.