The "96-well plates": one of the necessary elements of testing, now produced in Wallonia
"Belgium, thanks to Wallonia and the University of Liège, is the only place in the world where you can do all the Covid-19 testing without depending on the outside world: you control the whole chain. This does not exist anywhere else! ». Collaboration between Walloon public and private players (scientific, technological and industrial) has made it possible to develop the production of the 96-well plates very quickly. From now on, all the elements of the Covid-19 screening test are mastered by Wallonia.
Professor Fabrice Bureau, Vice-Rector for Research at ULiège and one of the designers, with Professor Laurent Gillet, of the automated PCR method for the detection of Sars-Cov-2, was proud to present this Friday, June 5, 2020 a new collaboration between ULiège, Sirris the collective center of the technological industry, the Mecatech cluster and the companies HTP Europe in Mouscron and MTU in Evregnies, under the eyes of the Walloon Minister of Economy, Research and Innovation.
The object of this collaboration, also carried out with Professor Éric Haubruge, adviser in charge of innovation, regional development and international relations, is a plastic box with 96 wells, a simple but indispensable element for the analysis of the samples. It is, in fact, in these boxes that the swabs of the samples are mixed with a series of chemical reagents before being analysed by the machine.
"Due to the global demand for pandemic testing, these boxes are in short supply on the world market. After the entire reagent chain for which ULiège has secured the supply, we are now able to produce in Wallonia the tens of thousands of boxes needed for testing. All this is the result of a collaboration where the whole chain of Walloon players was creative, reactive and very efficient since it took only five weeks between the demand and the start of industrial production."
"It is indeed a feat to have reduced the usual development time from 15 or 18 weeks to, here, only five weeks! ", said Jean-Claude Noben, Sirris' Wallonia Regional Director. "As soon as we were contacted by SOWALFIN, we mobilised our experts and our network of industrialists to propose concrete technological solutions." Sirris quickly took charge of monitoring the technical development of the project with the manufacturers. Not having the technical definition of the parts to be produced, the centre scanned existing parts and drew up 3D models of the components. The next step was to set up the industrial sector in order to produce injected parts in large series. Based on its network of industrial partners, Sirris was able to mobilize very quickly a mould maker and one injector, the Walloon industrial companies MTU and HTP Europe.
The development of this process for the manufacture of plates is important. "We need it now, but we must also prepare ourselves in case of a second wave of contamination," explains Professor Fabrice Bureau. If this were to occur, Wallonia would then be ready to react immediately and perfectly autonomous to carry out a very large number of tests, even beyond current capacities, thanks to the evolution, which we are working on, of the screening method we have developed at ULiège."
Fabrice BUREAU | Vice-Rector for Research | University of Liège