SUNY Chancellor Malatras and Upstate Medical Interim President Dewan Announce State Department of Health Approval of a SUNY Upstate Medical Saliva Diagnostic Test to Quickly Identify Positive COVID Cases

September 1, 2020

New Technology Developed by SUNY Upstate to be Used with Pooled Surveillance Testing of 10-25 Students at One Time will Further Pinpoint Individual Cases Using a Saliva Swab

This Cost-Effective and Rapid Screening Can Analyze Over 15,000 Samples Per Day or 105,000 a Week

Photos from Today's Event Available Online

Syracuse, NY – State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras and Upstate Medical Interim President Mantosh Dewan, MD announced today that the New York State Department of Health approved the SUNY medical university's saliva diagnostic test to quickly identify positive COVID cases on SUNY campuses.

The new technology by SUNY Upstate will be used in conjunction with its pooled surveillance testing of 10-25 students at one time, which was announced by Governor Andrew Cuomo earlier this month. This cost-effective and rapid screening can analyze more than 15,000 samples per day at SUNY Upstate's Neuroscience Research Building, in collaboration with Quadrant Biosciences—a company supported by the state with key tax incentives.

"Today's New York State Department of Health's approval of SUNY Upstate's research and testing technology is a game-changer for our 64 colleges and universities, because it is cost-effective for our campuses and less invasive for our students," said Chancellor Malatras. "Testing is one part of New York State's multipronged strategy to fight off a resurgence of the coronavirus pandemic. Today's approval shows that SUNY has all the intellectual and operational fire power to help tame the COVID beast. My thanks to Governor Cuomo, the New York State Department of Health SUNY Upstate's team of nation-leading faculty and researchers, and our public and private partners for this significant breakthrough."

"SUNY Upstate Medical University's response to the COVID pandemic has been especially strong in area of research, where we are testing waste water to detect early signs of COVID, offering the public opportunities to participate in clinical trials for vaccines and treatments, and our latest breakthrough—pooled saliva surveillance testing and a saliva diagnostic test," said SUNY Upstate Interim President Dewan. "So many people have played a role in this effort, from our faculty, lab technicians, administrators, SUNY and state leaders, and our partners at Quadrant Biosciences. Medical and scientific research, a hallmark of an academic medical center like Upstate, has propelled us forward in the fight against this pandemic to keep our community and state safe."

As a result of the department's approval, SUNY Upstate and its affiliates will immediately ramp up individual saliva diagnostic testing for SUNY campuses that have already signed up for the pooled surveillance testing. SUNY Upstate's testing is cost effective, allowing SUNY campuses to test more students at multiple times during the fall semester to identify any increases in COVID positive cases.

Grace Wang, Senior Vice Chancellor for Research and Economic Development, said, "The approval of a saliva diagnostic test is a major development for both Upstate Medical University and for SUNY colleges and universities working to safely reopen this fall. This new test is a cost-effective way for testing more students, more frequently – which is crucial to identifying and containing the virus. I want to thank Dr. Dewan and his team for helping establish SUNY as a national leader in testing innovation during this unprecedented time."

Gwen Kay, SUNY Trustee and President of the Faculty Senate, said, "We are so proud that our faculty at Upstate Medical University are devising cutting edge COVID-19 testing models to help colleges and universities across the state test more students, and more frequently. It's incredible to see faculty-driven innovation at one of our institutions being harnessed for the benefit of all the others. That is the true power of SUNY."

Howard Zucker, New York State Department of Health Commissioner, said, "The Department has been working closely with SUNY Upstate and their scientists on their saliva-based diagnostic method, as well as the pooled surveillance assay for several months. I applaud the collaborative approach the SUNY Campuses are taking to act quickly and limit the size of outbreaks among the student population."

Gareth Rhodes, Deputy Superintendent of the New York State Department of Financial Services and Member of Governor Cuomo's COVID Task Force, said, "From Day One, Governor Cuomo has made accurate, affordable, and widely available testing a top priority of New York's COVID-19 response. Testing has been a core part of the state's test-trace-isolate strategy that has kept the infection rate low as our economy reopens. While the federal administration seeks to roll back and slow testing, New York State is doing the exact opposite, investing in innovative solutions such as what SUNY Upstate is doing with pooled testing using saliva that is now available on a mass scale, and cutting edge wastewater monitoring systems to detect the virus. This is a model for the entire state as well as the nation. I commend SUNY Chancellor Malatras and the SUNY Upstate team for their vision and leadership."

Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon said, "A critical pillar of our local economy are the students who attend our local colleges and universities. The approval of this new saliva Diagnostic Test, developed by SUNY Upstate, is an exciting and critical tool to help us continue our successful fight against COVID-19 while safely and responsibly reopening our economy." McMahon continued, "SUNY Upstate and their entire team have been tremendous partners during this pandemic, and we are grateful for their unwavering efforts to help our County, Region and State lead the nation in defeating COVID-19."

Syracuse Mayor Ben Walsh said, "The State University of New York system has played a pivotal role in New York's successful response to COVID-19. The City of Syracuse has experienced that firsthand working with the experts at SUNY Upstate Medical University. The testing capability developed at Upstate will help save lives and make it possible for our region and the rest of New York to progress more safely through the next stages of the pandemic. I greatly appreciate the leadership and assistance being provided by Governor Cuomo, Chancellor Malatras, and Interim President Dewan at this critical time for New York and the nation."

Earlier this month, SUNY was approved by the New York State Department of Health to undertake pooled surveillance testing for COVID-19—an innovative method where numerous samples can be run as part of one test. SUNY's pooled testing approach was developed and validated by SUNY Upstate Medical University and Quadrant Biosciences, and will initially use saliva samples, pooled in batches as small as 10 samples and as large as 25 samples.

The pooled testing allows for about 10-25 people to be screened in one test. The testing can be done using saliva swabs rather than by swabs inserted in a person's nose. Individuals administer the tests themselves, swabbing their mouths for 10 or 15 seconds each, and provide the saliva samples to staff to be sent to Upstate Medical.

Their samples are combined into one, which is tested for SARS-CoV-2 virus. A negative test means that all 10-25 people in the group are presumed at the time to be coronavirus-free. A positive test for the pool would mean each individual saliva sample within the pool would need to be tested again individually to pinpoint exact positive cases.

The combination of surveillance pool testing and the saliva diagnostic testing announced today enables this rapid re-testing to occur without the need to collect a new sample, and thus provides the ability to rapidly screen more than 15,000 samples a day in a single lab, to identify the infected individuals. 

Unlike some currently used tests that have produced a wave of recent false positive findings, this test also exhibits markedly improved specificity in both individual and pooled saliva testing.

With the preliminary approval by New York State Department of Health, SUNY Upstate Medical University will start conducting individual saliva diagnostic tests immediately. SUNY Upstate currently has the only laboratory that can perform this test.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. As of Fall 2019, more than 415,500 students were enrolled in a degree-granting program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide exceeded $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.


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