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University of Illinois working to expand COVID-19 saliva testing nationally

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(WEEK) -- A new university-related organization is being created at the University of Illinois as part of a broad effort to expand the reach of saliva-based testing pioneered by university researchers that supports widespread testing with rapid results to limit the spread of COVID-19.

According to a university release, the organization is known as Shield T3 -- which will make the technology available nationally and was established in response to inquiries from universities and institutions across the country.

Interest surged after researchers in Urbana-Champaign unveiled the technology to promote safety when on-campus instruction resumes later this month.

Since then, it has been expanded to the U of I System’s universities in Chicago and Springfield.

Along with the new university-related organization, the U of I System has already created a new internal unit that is working to make the tests available in Illinois. The unit is known as SHIELD Illinois and will continue building current testing capacity, and hopes to ultimately offer testing to institutions and entities across the state. 

Governor J.B. Pritzker praised the U of I System’s innovation and efforts to spread the groundbreaking technology across the state and beyond. 

“The University of Illinois is living up to its reputation as a world-class research institution, with these promising innovations in rapid saliva testing during this pandemic,” Pritzker said. “I’m proud of their effort and what they have achieved so far, and look forward to what this promising breakthrough can mean for our state and the world.” 

The new initiatives grew from the breakthrough SHIELD program developed by Urbana-Champaign researchers -- with the name being a reference to their efforts to shield the campus community from the COVID-19 virus.  

The release says it features a saliva-based test that is easy-to-administer, scalable, sensitive and specific to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The test produces rapid results, at costs significantly below current alternatives such as nasal swabs. Results are available within 2-6 hours rather than three to four days or more. 

The quick turnaround time for test results is a key in curbing the virus, allowing isolation early enough to limit spread of the infection as well as narrowing down past exposure to allow more-effective contact tracing. It also identifies and isolates people with asymptomatic cases who would otherwise spread the virus unknowingly. 

The statewide program, SHIELD Illinois, is already working to increase current testing capacity to serve institutions and entities in Illinois that have expressed interest in the new technology. 

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