A COVID-19 test developed at Cal Poly that’s less invasive than the currently used nasal swab will be marketed by Hardy Diagnostics of Santa Maria, the university announced last month.

The new testing system uses an absorbent strip that’s held in the mouth for 30 seconds or less and absorbs just the right amount of saliva to test for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and excludes such contaminants as mucus, according to the announcement from Cal Poly.

Nathaniel Martinez, associate professor of biological sciences, and Andres Martinez, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, developed the test to streamline on-campus testing of faculty and students.

Since the system was put into use in February, Cal Poly has doubled its number of daily tests while reducing the workload needed to conduct the tests, a university spokesman said.

Jay Hardy, president of Hardy Diagnostics, said he’s excited about the potential the new system represents.

“We believe that saliva testing for COVID will eventually be the dominant and preferred method, due to enhanced patient comfort and compliance,” Hardy said.

Hardy Diagnostics will market the new testing system under a license agreement with Cal Poly.

“We are pleased that the partnership with Hardy Diagnostics will take this innovative technology beyond Cal Poly to enable widespread testing and help end this pandemic,” Andres Martinez said.

The saliva COVID-19 test grew out of the two professors’ work to develop microfluidic paper-based analytical devices, also known as microPADs, for low-cost and portable diagnostic applications.

“The device was developed and refined for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, but our team quickly realized it could also function as a platform saliva-collection device for testing a panel of other viruses in the future,” said Jim Dunning, associate vice president of Cal Poly’s Corporate Engagement and Innovation Office.

Corporate Engagement and Innovation and Cal Poly’s Technology Transfer Office worked with the professors to file for patent protection and, with assistance from Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, identified commercial partners to further develop and scale the new testing device.

The faculty and staff involved in the effort hope the technology not only can combat the COVID-19 pandemic but also can address future viruses and improve global health-care technology, the university spokesman said.

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