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Novel application of automated machine learning with MALDI-TOF-MS for rapid high-throughput screening of COVID-19: a proof of concept.

  • Author(s): Tran, Nam K
  • Howard, Taylor
  • Walsh, Ryan
  • Pepper, John
  • Loegering, Julia
  • Phinney, Brett
  • Salemi, Michelle R
  • Rashidi, Hooman H
  • et al.

The 2019 novel coronavirus infectious disease (COVID-19) pandemic caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has created an unsustainable need for molecular diagnostic testing. Molecular approaches such as reverse transcription (RT) polymerase chain reaction (PCR) offers highly sensitive and specific means to detect SARS-CoV-2 RNA, however, despite it being the accepted "gold standard", molecular platforms often require a tradeoff between speed versus throughput. Matrix assisted laser desorption ionization (MALDI)-time of flight (TOF)-mass spectrometry (MS) has been proposed as a potential solution for COVID-19 testing and finding a balance between analytical performance, speed, and throughput, without relying on impacted supply chains. Combined with machine learning (ML), this MALDI-TOF-MS approach could overcome logistical barriers encountered by current testing paradigms. We evaluated the analytical performance of an ML-enhanced MALDI-TOF-MS method for screening COVID-19. Residual nasal swab samples from adult volunteers were used for testing and compared against RT-PCR. Two optimized ML models were identified, exhibiting accuracy of 98.3%, positive percent agreement (PPA) of 100%, negative percent agreement (NPA) of 96%, and accuracy of 96.6%, PPA of 98.5%, and NPA of 94% respectively. Machine learning enhanced MALDI-TOF-MS for COVID-19 testing exhibited performance comparable to existing commercial SARS-CoV-2 tests.

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