SFU health sciences PhD student and Vanier scholar Natalie Kinloch

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SFU researchers working to improve COVID-19 testing

July 16, 2020
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Enhanced training for those who collect specimens for COVID-19 testing can help increase the accuracy of diagnostic results, according to a new study led by SFU health sciences PhD student Natalie Kinloch.

Kinloch, a Vanier scholar and research assistant at the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, worked with health sciences professor Zabrina Brumme and UBC professor Christopher Lowe, to compare two groups of nasopharyngeal swabs submitted for COVID-19 testing in BC. They examined 40 swabs from presumed or confirmed COVID-19 cases that had yielded false negative test results, along with a control group of 87 swabs submitted to the same lab for testing.

Kinloch found significantly lower levels of human DNA in the false negative test swabs, indicating not enough biological material was collected from the individual’s nose and throat for the test result to be accurate.

The researchers’ suggestion that augmented training for health care professionals could help improve testing accuracy is already having real-world impact. For instance, Providence Health Care recently created a training video on proper swab collection.

Kinloch says laboratory scientists can often feel distanced from the people they hope to help but this study was different because the pathway from study conception to clinical translation was so quick and clear.

“Working on a study such as this is a motivating and refreshing reminder of the important role research plays in health care,” says Kinloch.

Her study was funded by a Genome BC COVID-19 Rapid Response grant and was published June 29 in the Journal of Infectious Diseases.

Brumme says a follow-up study is underway to compare the effectiveness of two different nasopharyngeal swab collection techniques commonly used by a trained healthcare professional.

“We want to help further refine collection techniques and practices in the province,” she says.

The goal of this followup study will be to identify the technique that recovers the largest amount of biological material while minimizing discomfort for the person being tested.