• Science Saturday: Detecting COVID-19 viruses directly from human proteins using mass spectrometry

Mayo Clinic Laboratories for convalescent plasma research

In a newly published study, a team from Mayo Clinic’s Advanced Diagnostics Laboratory has developed a mass spectrometry-based assay that’s able to detect COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) pathogens from human proteins with, remarkably, 98% sensitivity and 100% specificity. This is the first assay of its kind that can detect viral antigens “directly from clinical specimens” such as nasopharyngeal swabs. Mass spectrometry is a sensitive technique used to detect, identify, and quantitate molecules present in a sample.   

“When you swab the nose, it picks up a sea of human proteins from which you’re trying to detect miniscule amounts of virus — it’s a needle in a haystack challenge,” says Akhilesh Pandey, M.D., Ph.D., professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at Mayo Clinic, who co-led the study along with Stefan Grebe, M.D., Ph.D., and Ravinder Singh, Ph.D. “With the method developed by our team, we can start with this sea of proteins, this raw material direct from the specimen, and we can tell you if we have viral particles or not.”  

This is no small accomplishment, considering previous and current mass spectrometry-based tests are not capable of detecting pathogens direct from clinical specimens. Instead, a “pure culture” first must be grown from the sample, which is time-consuming and not always successful. “You have to put the clinical specimen on a plate and allow the bacteria or fungi to grow into colonies as pure organisms,” says Dr. Pandey. “Only then can the mass spectrometer detect them. But with the method we’ve developed, this step isn’t necessary, and that’s what is really great about it.”

Read the rest of the article on Mayo Clinic Laboratories Eye on Innovation.


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