The university of Liege has announced it has developed an automated test for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
The new test would increase the daily testing capacity of the university – one of five reference centres in the country – by 2,000. If it were adopted in all reference centres, in the laboratories of GSK, UCB, Janssen Pharmaceutica and the university of Leuven, the country’s capacity could increase by 10,000 tests a day.
According to the latest figures from the health institute Sciensano, an average of 36,800 tests were carried out daily over the last seven days.
The test also returns a result within half a day, and works just as well on subjects who show symptoms and those who are asymptomatic.
The test works in three stages.
First, the test swab is brought in contact with the chemicals used, which deactivates the virus while retaining its genetic material.
Second, the chemicals extract the RNA from the virus – the step which slows down the process in other testing methods. SARS-CoV-2 has no DNA, only recombinant-DNA, known as RNA. Other testing methods require the RNA to be removed manually, which takes time and personnel.
Otherwise, it requires reagents, which have been known to fall into short supply.
Third, the RNA is transformed into DNA and amplified to a level at which it can be detected.
“This automated, rapid and reliable technique for detecting carriers of the virus, sick or asymptomatic, now allows the ULiège team to perform 2,000 tests per day,” the university said in a statement.
“The laboratories which have developed this method are now backed up by the clinical microbiology laboratory of the Liege university hospital to carry out local tests, but will also be involved in mass screening, starting with systematic screening in homes where there are many people at risk.”
The development of the technique, the statement says, “is a major step towards providing Belgium, and potentially other countries, with the significant testing capacity necessary to manage the Covid-19 health crisis”.