Global diagnostics companies and laboratories are in a race against time to adapt testing capacities to current demand. Due to the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, the demand for testing exceeds the existing capacity by far.
What are the different coronavirus tests and how can they help?
A) PCR based test
The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) based test is the one that can diagnose whether you have COVID-19. Right now, nasal and throat swabs are sent to labs, where technicians determine whether a given sample contains the new coronavirus by isolating any viral RNA, turning it into DNA, and then using the PCR test to amplify the DNA to detectable levels. The method has several drawbacks, including the limited number of testing wells on a PCR plate – typically 96 or 384 – and the time it takes to synthesize the millions of unique DNA snippets called primers, which are needed to amplify the virus’ genetic material.
B) Antibody test
The second test is the antibody test, often also called serology test. Antibodies are small proteins produced by our immune system which live in our blood for the most part. Some of these antibodies attack the virus and neutralize it. About five to ten days after being infected with SARS-CoV-2, the body’s immune system generates an array of antibodies, some of which can disable or neutralize the virus. They remain in our body for months or even years afterwards, continuing to provide protection. A high level of the right antibodies in the human body indicate a recovered COVID-19 disease and some level of immunity. Researchers want to identify those antibodies so they can use them to develop treatments, but also to detect who is already immune against the COVID-19 virus.
At the beginning of a pandemic like this, it’s crucial to determine who has the virus to limit the spread among the population. PCR tests can help in this phase to enable isolation procedures, reduce basic reproduction number (R0) and slow down transmission. They are one of the most vital tools for controlling the outbreak of the virus.
As the pandemic develops, antibody tests will become increasingly important. These tests can help to understand how the epidemic goes through a population, and what level of immunity has been reached in communities. Testing on a large scale can help key workers get back to work, protecting more vulnerable people and eventually enable to unlock the lockdown.
Ramping up testing capacity with Festo’s industrial grade laboratory technology
Technology can help to go through a pandemic like this. Festo’s unique portfolio of liquid handling solutions allows machine builders for laboratory equipment and diagnostic companies to build scalable, high-throughput IVD devices.
With components and intelligent subsystems for laboratory, Festo offers automation solutions for typical testing workflows like handling of sample tubes, pipetting and dispensing of buffer solutions or RNA.
Festo's laboratory automation products are field proven and designed for the most demanding industrial operations. The focus for Festo in developing the components was on high-throughput, precision and accuracy, with CV (Coefficient of Variation) better than 3%.
A high level of standardization and inventory ensures high availability of the components.
This allows test capacity to be quickly established and expanded where needed to ensure the availability and reliability of COVID-19 testing.
About the author
LifeTech Technical Engineering Center
Festo Corporation, USA