Illustration by Katie Ferreol.

A Year of the Saliva Testing Study

Following the completion of a year of screening work at NYUAD, those pioneering the Saliva Testing Study reflect on their work and look towards the future.

As NYU Abu Dhabi steps into new territory with the Covid-19 pandemic, the Saliva Testing Study, one of its cornerstone projects, is looking to the future and reflecting on the past year of screening work at the university.
The study, pioneered by Professor of Biology at NYU New York and NYUAD Kris Gunsalus and Assistant Professor of Biology at NYUAD Youssef Idaghdour, has been touted as the future of testing and diagnostics across the UAE.
In their time setting up the study and selecting their method of detection, Gunsalus and Idaghdour came in contact with the bureaucratic aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic. Due to requirements from the UAE government, the saliva testing study is not an official diagnostic test, despite the fact that it has been proven to be more sensitive than a standard RT-PCR test.
“It actually took a little while to get off the ground because it wasn't really clear what was going on in terms of the national response, you know, what the government was planning etc and you know the CDC took a little bit of time to approve some testing protocols and such. And I have to say I'm really really pleased with the way it turned out because our team has been absolutely fantastic,” explained Professor Gunsalus.
The assay employed by the saliva testing study has been tested by the NYUAD team in collaboration with various partners across the UAE, including Cleveland Clinic. The NYUAD test was able to detect positive cases previously reported as negative.
The assay is also quantitative, which has allowed the NYUAD team to detect viral loads and divide them into categories. This aspect has helped the Health Center in their response to infections.
Now that the academic year is coming to a close, Professor Idaghdour and Gunsalus are looking to the future of the project. They have already submitted a budget request for another iteration of the Saliva Testing Study. They hope to expand the testing to the larger NYUAD community and family members of staff that reside off campus. Currently they have the capacity to carry out 1000 tests a day.
Idaghdour, whose work centers mostly around malaria incidences in Africa, is hopeful that the project will allow a deeper understanding of Covid-19. He hopes that they will soon be able to provide the Health Center with onsite testing and to integrate students further into the processing of samples in the lab.
“Coming together as a community of researchers, students, the Health Center, the biology departments, my lab. I am grateful for so many people that are involved in this project,” expressed Idaghdour.
Mari Velasquez-Soler is Senior News Editor. Email her at
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