Researchers at UC Berkeley have set up a “pop-up” robotic COVID-19 testing lab that can process up to 1000 patient samples a day, and it could ramp up to as many as 3000 a day, if required. The initiative received donations of high-throughput robotic PCR systems from campus research labs within Berkeley, and the new facility can provide results as quickly as 4 hours from the receipt of patient swabs.
One of the current bottle necks in assessing and stopping the COVID-19 pandemic is diagnostic testing. The countries that have performed the best in reducing the numbers of those infected have aggressively tested their populations, and have been ruthless in tracking down the contacts of infected people and testing them also. Given that many of those infected are asymptomatic, testing is crucial in identifying those who are spreading the disease.
However, shortages of labor and equipment for testing have led to long delays in many jurisdictions, which can cause anxiety for those who suspect that they may be infected. Timely testing is particularly critical for healthcare staff who may be infected, as they could spread the disease among vulnerable patients in healthcare facilities.
The testing method used to detect COVID-19, PCR, is routinely used in research labs all across the world. Realizing that they could use their equipment and expertise to help the effort against the virus, Berkeley scientists, along with corporate partners, decided to set up the pop-up testing lab.
Berkeley labs have donated high-throughput PCR equipment, which includes robotic sample handling for rapid and automated testing, to the pop-up testing unit. “We threw our research and development mindset into understanding how we can scale it up and accelerate it, because we understood this fundamental need of the medical community,” said Fyodor Urnov, a researcher involved in the initiative. “Who we are as scientists really connected to an unmet need.”
will provide much needed testing capacity for those with symptoms consistent
with COVID-19 infection in the Bay Area. “The UC Berkeley team is racing to
address this critical public health situation by establishing a testing lab
that will be immediately impactful in our community, while also generating data
that contributes to understanding the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus,” said
Jennifer Doudna, another researcher involved with the initiative.