University Operating Status

A Quick Test for COVID-19

David Alland, chief of infectious diseases and director of the Public Health  Research Institute
David Alland, chief of infectious diseases and director of the Public Health Research Institute, is also the director of Rutgers’ new Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness.
Photography by John Emerson

David Alland, a Rutgers infectious disease expert, helps devise a tool to detect the virus and directs a new center combating it.

On March 21, the Wall Street Journal, NPR, Bloomberg, and other major media outlets began reporting that the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) had granted emergency use authorization for the first rapid “point of care” diagnostic test for COVID-19. Developed by the California-based diagnostics company Cepheid, the test could be completed in a doctor’s office, with results in 45 minutes instead of the days it had been taking to get findings back from commercial, public health, and hospital labs.

That crucial approval came only after a Rutgers research team—partnering with Cepheid and led by Rutgers’ David Alland—developed and got approval for a test. Alland, chief of infectious diseases and director of the Public Health Research Institute at New Jersey Medical School (NJMS), said the “test was able to identify extremely small amounts of genetic material from SARS-CoV-2 [the virus causing COVID-19]. And when we repeated this test using live virus, we also were able to identify very low levels. This strongly suggested the test would be highly effective at identifying COVID-19 cases.”

On April 3, ABC News reported that Florida’s Memorial Healthcare System would begin using the test, preferring it over others because “it can run several specimens at once.”

Alland called rapid-results tests “a game changer for crucial medical decisions, including how to triage patients, when to isolate, and how to treat.” He added, “as the world continues to manage COVID-19 in the coming years, the tests could help detect new small outbreaks of disease before large-scale outbreaks recur.”

The Xpert® Xpress SARS-CoV-2 test is the latest success in the 20-year Rutgers-Cepheid partnership that has brought revolutionary diagnostic tests to market. In 2019, Alland, working with Cepheid’s director of research and development, Soumitesh Chakravorty, also on the faculty at NJMS, won the Edison Patent Award for co-inventing in 2010 a test that shortens from seven weeks to two hours the time it takes to diagnose drug-resistant tuberculosis—still a much-feared worldwide killer.

Just days after the FDA approved the COVID-19 test, Alland added another title to his stellar résumé: director of Rutgers’ new Center for COVID-19 Response and Pandemic Preparedness. Operating within the Rutgers Institute for Infectious and Inflammatory Diseases, the center will coordinate and capitalize on the university’s myriad research, public health, and outreach efforts to combat COVID-19 and serve as an institutional hub for Rutgers’ COVID-19 research activities and data dissemination.