Study: Seattle startup blood self-collection device accurate for COVID-19 antibody samples

Tasso-SST device for self-collection of blood. (Photo of the Cup)

Self-administered device for collecting blood produces high-quality antibody samples and works successfully in a high proportion of users, according to a study of people who have previously been infected with COVID-19 led by researchers from Seattle.

The experimental device, made by the Seattle-based startup Cup, has the potential to supplant some of the blood tests normally taken from a vein in the clinic.

The Tasso-SST device works on the upper arm, drawing blood from a network of capillaries under the skin. The patient presses a button on the device, which pierces the skin with a spring-loaded lancet and creates a vacuum to help collect the blood.

Researchers at Tasso, the University of Washington, and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center tested the device in 99 study participants. One group had recovered from a previous COVID-19 and must have had antibodies to the virus, and a second group had no history of the disease.

The test was designed to ask if patients are producing enough antibodies against the virus to donate them to people with ongoing infections. The self-collected samples were compared with samples taken with the device under surveillance and with blood drawn from a vein by a phlebotomist.

Antibody results for each participant were similar among all samples, the researchers found. This is even if the Tasso-ST samples were subjected to conditions mimicking the 48 hour shipment, compared to the immediate processing of the samples taken by the phlebotomist.

“There was an almost perfect correlation between the venous blood results and the capillary blood samples,” lead author Chihiro Morishima said in a UW Press release. “The results were as good as we could have hoped,” added Morishima, associate professor of laboratory medicine and pathology.

The results are in line with previous research showing that antibodies tend to be stable in blood samples.

Although the samples were in good condition, some participants had to use the device twice to get enough blood. Eighty-five participants (93.4%) generated enough blood for analysis on their first attempt, compared to 90 participants (98.9%) with a successful blood draw from a vein. Almost all of the participants had at least some college education.

The device is designed to collect more blood than the average finger prick, which averages about 1/3 milliliter in the study. This is sufficient for the manual analysis performed in the study, although automated instruments may require more.

Further studies with Tasso-SST remain ongoing, including another COVID-19 antibody study funded by Fred Hutch partly by Amazon. Tasso VP of the product Nick end is also a former senior director of product management at Amazon.

Last July, the 9-year-old company raised $ 17 million in addition to the $ 13.1 million Funding Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and National Institute of Health (NIH).

Tasso also markets a self-collection device for storing and transporting small, dried blood samples as dots on a strip. This device authorization received this May in the European Union for non-diagnostic uses, such as monitoring blood component levels during clinical trials. This device uses technology similar to that of the Tasso-SST.

As more studies emerge demonstrating the utility of serology in the management of COVID-19, “we believe the FDA will recognize the clinical diagnostic value of these tests and open up avenues for clearance,” said Tasso CTO Erwin Berthier in an email to GeekWire. He co-founded the company with a colleague bio-engineer and CEO Ben Casavant in 2011.

Tasso funded the new study, participated in the research, and approved the final manuscript. The company was not involved in decisions on how to analyze or present the data, according to PLOS One, which released study.

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