Racing to do coronavirus tests

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The situation is hardly better in the United States, with numbers of tests far below what experts say is necessary. BBC News reported retired doctor Claudia Bahorik thought she was having symptoms, but despite a test request on March 9, she was still waiting for results on the 23rd – the CDC said her profile did not qualify her , at the time, for one of the rationed tests. His plight illustrates the failure of the United States to follow the “test, treat and trace” strategy. And The new yorker reported that in South Dakota, only one public health laboratory was conducting COVID-19 tests for whole state nearly 900,000 people.

The New York Times found that the British government could not afford to test every suspected case. Journalists even identified a rogue private doctor who bought tests to sell at a high profit margin to private clients. Public Health England, the national public health agency, has advised against using these tests, which have yet to be proven accurate. But out of desperation, people are turning to these kits as the country strives to implement a holistic testing regime nationwide. And we don’t know where the solution comes from.


A small private DNA testing and drug company is in a secure unit at the site of an abandoned Air Force base in Norfolk, in the east of the UK. He normally provides DNA relations tests for immigration and family disputes. It also offers “peace of mind” tests, a home DNA test kit sold at major retailers, that allow people to check their family relationships. The company decided to use its expertise to help as the coronavirus crisis began to emerge.

“We had all seen the information regarding a need for testing,” said Dr. Thomas Haizel, general manager of the laboratory, “and decided we could do it. The company believed it could quickly and easily use part of its capacity to strengthen the testing facilities at the nearby hospital. Not only did he have the raw materials to produce tests, but he has a number of automated polymerase chain reaction (PCR) machines, each costing up to £ 100,000 ($ 122,000). And thanks to Chinese scientists who successfully sequenced the SARS-CoV-2 genome in January, the test plan is known.

The company emptied a pair of laboratories, transforming them into a virology suite that would be suitable for COVID-19 tests.

In the UK, laboratories are rated on their containment level (CL), which determines which organisms they can handle. Public Health England has stated that researchers who propagate, cultivate or do any form of “deliberate work on SARS-CoV-2” must be a CL3 laboratory. But standard tests for the virus, run on commercially available automatic analyzers, require only CL2. The only requirement that Haizel’s laboratory could not immediately meet was to have a specific form of microbiological safety cabinet, or MSC.

There were certainly already several MSCs, but these were wired into the DNA test facilities and therefore could not be moved. Unfortunately, at the start of a pandemic, it is not a piece of kit that is particularly easy to obtain. And thus began a frantic race to call all the laboratory suppliers in the country in search of a spare cabinet. The company found one 200 miles away, but couldn’t deliver for several weeks due to high demand. Rather than wait, an employee – armed with his own truck – picked him up the next day.

With the MSC delivered, the team plans to have an operational test facility in place by March 23. And then the current fell. “The day before, we had to have [the MSC] put into service, a local electrical transformer broke down and we lost power at the site, ”said Dr. Haizel. The company quickly found and installed a generator, and after a short delay, the technicians started the system. The laboratory now has the capacity and the capacity to offer COVID-19 tests – it is simply awaiting approval from official bodies.

How does a PCR test work?

The polymerase chain reaction test involves the application of oligonucleotides to strands of deoxyribonucleic and ribonucleic acid …

Okay, how does a PCR test work, and please explain as i’m five.

A strand of DNA is usually represented as a ladder, with two posts and a series of steps that connect them. Normally, this ladder is looped, like a spiral staircase, but it is easier to imagine a ladder leaning against a wall. RNA (ribonucleic acid), in comparison, seems like someone has just sliced ​​a scale from top to bottom, with straight, shorter rungs protruding from the side. We are talking about RNA, by the way, because SARS-CoV-2 is a virus with RNA rather than DNA.

Each rung in this half-scale is one of four different nucleotides, which make up the genetic code of any organism. Since the genome of COVID-19, or more precisely SARS-CoV-2, has been sequenced, you can create a “primer”, essentially a piece of genetic material that finds and joins the SARS-CoV-2 code. Add a few more ingredients and you can create a DNA section that is on or next to the SARS-CoV-2 strand. But that strand alone is too small to be spotted by an analysis machine.

So, to make it larger and, therefore, readable, you heat the mixture to essentially separate and duplicate the strands, and then let it cool. The more you do this, the more the strands will separate and replicate until you have enough samples to see. Then just add a dye or fluorescent marker to find this material, and you can see if the SARS-CoV-2 RNA is present. This is how polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, tests work.

A number of laboratories in the UK are working to dedicate resources to the fight against COVID-19. In a statement, King’s College London said it offered staff to support King’s College Hospital. King’s also has a commercial DNA laboratory that offers paid relationship tests for court cases and individuals. He said he would work to “free up laboratory space for COVID-19 tests” and proposed an “inventory of all PCR machines on site to leverage NHS resources”.

In the United States, Quest Labs said NPR that it has a backlog of 115,000 tests that it has yet to process. And although the company has successfully increased the number of tests it can process, it is still out of date. The report adds that Quest tests take between four and five days to process. This, coupled with failures with the initial kits and supply shortages, has meant that the tests are far behind where they need to be.

In comparison, German laboratories would process tens of thousands of tests every day and start manufacturing test kits in January. Italy, hard hit by the virus, has announced plans to begin nationwide testing in hopes of reviving its economy soon. The picture is different in some African countries, with Science noting that several (unnamed) nations on the continent have only one or two facilities capable of performing the tests.

A number of large international biotechnology companies, such as Bosch and bioMérieux, are developing rapid COVID-19 tests. Tech companies, including Verily, the life sciences subsidiary of Google / Alphabet, have joined the effort in a variety of ways. A presidential announcement said the company was building a tool to help screen for COVID-19, which, according to The Washington Post, encouraged employees to scramble to make one. She has since launched a test program, offering swabs at the wheel in California as part of the larger Baseline project.

Many other big names in technology have pivoted to help in some way in the coronavirus effort. Razer is committed to manufacturing surgical masks that can be donated to healthcare workers working with COVID-19 patients. Similarly, Tesla has offered to produce fans to cover the likely decline in supply when current resources are exceeded.

SAN MATEO, CALIFORNIA - March 16: Medical personnel surround a car that passes by a coronavirus driving test clinic at the San Mateo County Event Center on March 16, 2020 in San Mateo, California. Driving test clinics for COVID-19 are emerging across the country as new tests become available. (Photo by Justin Sullivan / Getty Images)
Verily employees administering driving tests.

Justin Sullivan via Getty Images

Another lab owner says it will be a long time before the burdened British government can approve independent tests. “There is no point in going down from the top yet,” said Mike Fischer, co-founder of Research Machines and Alamy. He channeled his wealth into the Fischer Family Trust, which funds education, research and conservation organizations.

One of Fischer’s flagship projects is the Systems Biology Laboratory (SBL), an Oxfordshire laboratory that seeks to improve health care outcomes. SBL specializes in areas such as DNA instability, cancer immunotherapy and the review of the medical applications of vitamin D. It maintains close ties with a number of general practitioners in the region and offers help on request.

“My chief scientist was approached by a practice asking him if [we] could test some of their GPs, “said Fischer. The physicians in question had symptoms of COVID-19 and were concerned that they would endanger their patients. “We ordered the first test kit on March 6,” said Fischer, and SBL could see “how valuable it is to [doctors] both motivationally and practically. “

Since SBL was already involved in biological research, it was easy to configure its PCR machines to offer the test. Since then, the laboratory has contacted a number of general surgeries in southern Oxfordshire, testing more than 200 medical staff twice a week. This allows COVID-19-free doctors and nurses to return to work while carriers can isolate themselves as soon as possible.

These small-scale tests inspired Fischer to set up the COVID-19 Volunteer Testing Network, an organization that helps private laboratories to test healthcare workers. “Our big thing is a call to the labs,” said Fischer, who has the knowledge, resources and equipment to help you. Fischer has promised to finance the “consumable costs” for these tests out of his own pocket and will offer additional monetary support if necessary.

This kind of private generosity shouldn’t be necessary, but unfortunately it is now. In the United Kingdom and the United States, there may be the capacity and the capacity to offer COVID-19 tests to those who need them, but both countries have so far experienced difficulties. They have not been able to implement the WHO isolation, testing, processing and traceability strategy, and the consequences could be very, very, very bad.

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