Global diagnostics companies and laboratories are in a race against time to adapt testing capacity to current demand. Due to the global COVID 19 pandemic, the demand for testing far exceeds the available capacity.
A) PCR-based test
The PCR (polymerase chain reaction) based test can determine whether you have COVID-19. Currently, nasal and throat swabs are sent to laboratories where technicians determine if a particular sample contains the new coronavirus by isolating the viral RNA, converting it to DNA and then using the PCR test to amplify the DNA to detectable levels. The method has several drawbacks, including the limited number of test wells on a PCR plate – usually 96 or 384 – and the time it takes to synthesise the millions of unique DNA snippets, called primers, which are needed to amplify the genetic material of the virus.
B) Antibody test
The second test is the antibody test, often also called a serology test. Antibodies are small proteins produced by our immune system and are mostly found in our blood. Some of these antibodies attack the virus and neutralise it. About five to ten days after having been infected with SARS-CoV-2, the body's immune system produces an array of antibodies, some of which can disable or neutralise the virus. They remain in our bodies for months or even years afterwards and continue to provide protection. A high level of the right antibodies in the human body indicates that the person recovered from a COVID-19 infection and shows some level of immunity. Researchers want to identify these antibodies so that they can use them to develop treatments, but also to detect who is already immune to the COVID-19 virus.
At the beginning of a pandemic like this, it is crucial to determine who has the virus in order to limit the spread in the population. PCR tests can help at this stage to enable isolation procedures, reduce the basic reproduction number (R0) and slow down transmission. They are one of the most important 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 spreads in a population, and what level of immunity has been reached in communities. Testing on a large scale can help get key workers back to work, protecting more vulnerable people and eventually lifting the lockdown.
Ramping up testing capacity with industrial-grade laboratory technology from Festo
Technology can help us survive a pandemic like this. The unique portfolio of liquid handling solutions from Festo enables machine builders of laboratory equipment and diagnostics companies to build scalable, high-throughput IVD devices.
With components and intelligent subsystems for the laboratory, Festo offers automation solutions for typical test procedures such as the handling of sample tubes, pipetting and dispensing of buffer solutions or RNA.
The laboratory automation products from Festo have proven themselves in practice and are designed for the most demanding industrial applications. 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 degree of standardisation and warehousing ensures high component availability.
This, in turn, allows the test capacity to be built up quickly and expanded as needed to ensure the availability and reliability of the COVID-19 tests.