There is an urgent need to quickly and accurately identify cases of COVID-19, as this information can be used to help stop the spread of the virus, both in the community and in the hospital (or other settings, like long-term care facilities). Current COVID-19 tests detect viral RNA using a tool called PCR. In general, PCR is considered a very sensitive way to diagnose infections. Sometimes, tests do not perform as expected, and this can due to many different factors (e.g. the way the specimen is collected, transport issues, the technology used in the laboratory). This work will help us understand which factors play a role in PCR testing for COVID-19 specifically. It will also allow us to potentially identify any pitfalls with the current testing process, and improve upon them.
It is also important to develop a method for researchers to better measure viral load in patients. This will help medical professionals determine which therapeutic interventions are effective during the course of infection. In the management of other viral infections such as HIV, information around viral load has been invaluable. Ultimately, this project will be able to examine the diagnostic performance of COVID-19 tests and determine viral loads of patients which will improve the way that people are treated. This project will leverage local expertise in viral quantification and precision medicine to help control the current COVID-19 pandemic.