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Montana State University has received state funding from the governor to research a potentially faster and cheaper method of testing for the COVID-19 virus.

The $776,000 grant will fund the university’s research on a type of COVID-19 test that could improve the access to and speed of testing, MSU confirmed to the Chronicle on Friday.

The method, called loop-mediated isothermal amplification, or LAMP testing, relies on saliva as opposed to the commonly used nasal swab test.

“There’s a lot of research exploring LAMP right now because of its speed,” said Connie Chang, an assistant professor in the department of chemical and biological engineering. Chang is leading the project and working alongside 12 MSU faculty members.

LAMP testing analyzes saliva samples in around 30 minutes and delivers results by changing the sample color to yellow if it’s positive for the COVID-19 virus.

“With the technology that we’re developing, we think we can trim the result time even more. It’s an exciting developing technology for point-of-care testing, and that’s why a lot of people are working on it right now,” Chang said.

The funds will be used to validate the new testing method and make sure it is accurate. The research team will work with the university’s COVID-19 testing laboratory to determine how effective the new type of test is at identifying positive coronavirus samples compared to the nasal swabs.

If the LAMP tests are approved for wide-scale testing, it would be used alongside the nasal swab tests, according to MSU.

“The easy-to-use and rapid LAMP tests would allow public health officials to quickly identify those with a very high probability of having COVID-19 and then confirm those cases with a subsequent (nasal) test,” the university said in a news release.

The funding, which comes from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act, is administered by Gov. Bullock’s office and the Office of the Commissioner of Higher Education.

“The bottom line is the addition of LAMP to our testing toolbox could help increase our ability to identify COVID-19 cases,” Jayne Morrow, the assistant vice president for research, economic development and graduate education, said in the news release. Morrow is a member of the research team.

Collaborators on the project come from MSU’s Center for American Indian and Rural Health Equity, the Department of Health and Human Development, the Department of History and Philosophy, the Gianforte School of Computing, the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering, and the Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

Other universities across the country have begun studying LAMP testing, as well, including Columbia University. Although faster, the LAMP saliva tests can be less accurate than the nasal swabs.

“The latest data shows the Columbia test performs as well as a laboratory deep-nose swab test more than 96 percent of the time, even when using saliva from sick patients who gave messy samples,” the New York Times reported in early October.

The MSU study will also develop epidemiological models to determine vulnerable populations and the rate of testing that could stop the spread of the virus.

“Our researchers continue to live the land-grant mission of Montana State by pivoting their research expertise and talents to help our state and local public health agencies to make an immediate positive impact in the effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 and maximize the benefit to our most vulnerable communities,” said Jason Carter, the university’s vice president for research, economic development and graduate education.

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Liz Weber can be reached at lweber@dailychronicle.com or 582-2633.