Sunday 5 February 2023

Costa Rica scientists work on saliva tests to detect covid-19

First results give positive signals about the work carried out by experts from the UCR, the TEC and the UNA

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QCOSTARICA – More than 20 researchers from Costa Rica’s public universities have been working on a saliva test with which to more quickly diagnose whether a person has covid-19 or not.

When the result is negative, the sample is red and yellow when it is positive for covid-19.

Scientists expect to have the first prototype completed soon, currently verifying laboratory analysis of the use of synthetic genes designed by the University of Costa Rica (UCR), which has yielded very positive results.

“The first results show that the tests achieved a sensitivity of 94.4% (ability of the test to detect disease) and a specificity of 100% (exclusion of healthy individuals). The percentages obtained are very high. This means that the test has great potential to help the diagnosis of covid-19,” said Dr. German Madrigal, director of the Institute of Pharmaceutical Research (Inifar), of the UCR Faculty of Pharmacy.


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Costa Rican scientists designed synthetic SARS-CoV2 genes and artificial saliva to counteract the results with the PCR test, both should give the same result. If they pass this phase and two more pending, in a few months the UCR could share the results obtained with the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS) and the Ministry of Health for its production.

The test does not need specialized equipment and personnel to take the sample and process it, which makes it cheaper.

These tests could be up to 70% cheaper than PCR.

How does it work? A saliva sample is taken from the person or can be self taken in a sterile container such as one used to collect feces or urine, without exposing Health personnel. It is then heated to 95 degrees Celsius and results are obtained in an hour, without having to go through a laboratory or specialized equipment.

If the result is positive it turns yellow, and red if negative.

The idea is that this rapid test complements the PCR tests and allows the country more options.

The third phase of validation is to develop a protocol to develop a study that uses real samples from anonymous patients positive for covid-19, previously diagnosed with a PCR test.

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If the rapid test really works, the result should also be positive.

“At the moment we are joining Central American colleagues as they have a similar project, they just started in a different way. They already have the patient protocols and permits, but not the tests. We have the tests, but not the protocols and permission to study patients,” commented Dr. Madrigal.

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