Two Cal Poly professors, who happen to be brothers, developed a saliva test to detect COVID-19 among students and staff members.
The device will be commercialized by Hardy Diagnostics, a medical manufacturer headquartered in Santa Maria.
“It came pretty much out of necessity,” said Nathaniel Martinez, an associate professor in biological sciences at Cal Poly.
Like many universities across the country, Cal Poly had to figure out how to test its students quickly. With a demand of 3,000 to 5,000 tests daily, saliva samples became popular but with unforeseen challenges.
“We would get reports that students are having trouble depositing saliva because they are just nervous about it, but i’d say that about 2-5% of the population just either through dehydration or their natural physiology have difficulties producing saliva and produce a very viscous almost mucoid saliva,” explained Professor Nathaniel Martinez.
Professor Nathanial Martinez and his brother Andres Martinez, who is a professor in analytical chemistry came up with a low cost, paper-based Polystick.
“It is a metered collection device,” said Professor Nathaniel Martinez. “It is metered in that it will collect the appropriate amount of saliva needed for testing on the QPCR instrument.”
The goal for researchers was to keep it as simple as possible for students.
All they must do is take a Polystick, place it in their mouth for 10-15 seconds, wait for a meter to turn blue and then, put it inside of a collection tube.
From an idea to validation, it took about four months to implement on campus.
After 75,000 samples, Cal poly was approached by Hardy Diagnostics.
“Hardy diagnostics will handle the commercialization of that device, and we’ll provide the technical support as they roll it out,” said Jim Dunning, Cal Poly’s associate vice president of corporate engagement and innovation.
“We believe that saliva testing for COVID will eventually be the dominant and preferred method, due to enhanced patient comfort and compliance,” said in a statement, Jay Hardy, the president of Hardy Diagnostics.
Professor Nathaniel Martinez said he never considered pursuing science growing up, but he attributes the developed passion to his mentors along his academic journey. He added that he is proud to accomplish this project with his brother.
“It is extremely exciting to see within a short period of time a product that just came out of our brain and is now going to be in somebody’s household and should be able to help not only with this pandemic, but we are hoping it will have many other uses for diagnostics,” concluded Professor Nathaniel Martinez.
According to Cal Poly officials, it might take about a year to see the test mass-produced and available for sale at stores.
Professor Nathaniel Martinez said Hardy Diagnostics plans to rename the product as Trans Pro Saliva Collection device.
Next year, Professors Nathaniel and Andres Martinez will have a joint lab at the new science building and they told KSBY News they look forward to more collaborations.