Covid-19 test project gains $236k funding

Associate Prof Jo-Ann Stanton (left), of the University of Otago anatomy 
Associate Prof Jo-Ann Stanton (left), of the University of Otago anatomy department, trains scientists in molecular sequencing techniques in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. PHOTO: SUPPLIED
A University of Otago project may help find a faster way to test for Covid-19 in work that may provide the edge needed to stop the virus.

University of Otago molecular biologist Associate Prof Jo-Ann Stanton has gained $235,746 in government funding to develop a "game-changer" point-of-care test for Covid-19.

Prof Stanton, of the Otago anatomy department, said she was "very, very happy" to gain the funding, and optimistic she could help develop an effective point-of-care test, which could potentially deliver a test result within an hour, at a doctor’s practice or airport.

"Rapid testing is right at the centre of the Covid-19 response and supports effective identification of cases and contact tracing.

"This tool has the potential to greatly speed up this process and to give us the edge we need to stop this virus," she said.

At present swabs were taken and sent to a central laboratory for testing, which was a robust and cost-effective approach.

"If you live in the provinces there is currently an average three-day wait for test results.

"We are looking to be able to produce the test result a lot quicker."

She hoped to be trying out an initial form of test with doctors within the research team in three to four months, and also hoped to have a test developed for wider use late this year or early next year.

Prof Stanton is one of three Otago researchers to receive part of the Health Research Council and Ministry of Health’s $3.8million funding, split among 13 new Covid-19 research projects nationally.

Prof Michael Baker ($500,000) and senior lecturer Lesley Gray ($179,904), both from university’s Wellington campus, also received funding.

Prof Baker’s multi-disciplinary project aims to help New Zealand be better prepared for the next major public health emergency.

Ms Gray said self-isolation and physical distancing were critical parts of New Zealand’s pandemic response, and her collaborative research aimed to provide a comprehensive picture of how people were self-isolating.

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