Covid screening: a capacity of 30,000 to 60,000 tests per day at ULiège
The University of Liège (ULiège) developed last April an automated method for testing for Sars-Cov-2 and secured the supply of reagents needed for these tests by creating in its laboratories an autonomous production line (of chemicals and silica coated magnetic microbeads). It joined the Federal Testing Task Force as an approved laboratory for testing, with a capacity of around 4,000 tests per day.
y mid-September, ULiège is working on the evolution of its method in order to be able to carry out 30,000 to 60,000 screening tests per day.
How will this be achieved?
- Sampling. It will no longer be naso-pharyngeal by means of a swab, which requires qualified personnel to perform it, but based on a saliva sample deposited by the person tested himself in a tube fitted with a funnel. It will therefore be a self-sampling.
- Inactivation of the virus. The necessary reagent will be safely delivered into the tube as soon as the test person closes the funnel.
This sampling device is currently being studied with Sirris, a collective centre for Belgian technological industry, and will lead to a new collaboration with Walloon industrial partners for mass production.
This original device, which will be a world first, will allow considerable time savings (currently, the samples are inactivated one by one by specialised operators in laboratories with safety level P2 or P3) and will allow a much higher volume of samples to be processed.
- Automation of the opening of the tubes containing the saliva sample and the transfer to the 96-well boxes for the viral RNA extraction step.
- Pooling. Each well of the 96-well boxes will contain 8 samples instead of one. If a positive case is identified in the subsequent testing step, a retest will be performed on all 8 individual samples to determine which one is infected.
- The qRT-PCR step will be complemented by a Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) technique.
This increased capacity will make it possible to test regularly (at least once a month) the active population of Wallonia (as well as the student populations in higher education), to monitor the circulation of the virus and to help avoid generalised containment measures, which are detrimental to the economy and the mental health of the populations.