The UK DRI team behind a high-throughput robotic coronavirus testing platform that was developed in just nine days in April, have made the full details of their setup and workflow available to others, in an effort to support the scaling-up of testing capacity across the UK.
Published today with open access in Nature Communications, the paper details how the team adopted the gold standard test already being used by the NHS, and applied new methods to validate their high-throughput workflow, which has now been accredited and implemented by NHS pathology labs.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shown how the rapid rise in demand for patient and community testing, essential for tracing and containing a highly infectious disease, has quickly overwhelmed testing capability globally. With most diagnostic infrastructure dependent on specialised instruments with exclusive reagent supplies, these have quickly become bottlenecks in times of peak demand, creating an urgent need for new approaches to boost testing capacity.
UK DRI Group Leader Prof Paul Freemont, based at Imperial College London as part of the UK DRI Care Research & Technology Centre, sought to address this challenge by repurposing the fully automated synthetic biology workflows available at the London Biofoundry, which he co-directs. This versatile equipment infrastructure is usually applied in a range of cutting-edge research projects, including testing for infections in vulnerable people such as those living with dementia.