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UCC joins effort to address COVID-19 testing shortage

9 Apr 2020
Research and industry combines to formulate key chemical reagent.

Irish scientists - including UCC experts - have joined forces to formulate the chemical reagent needed to test for COVID-19.

As billions of people are forced into lockdown with the global spread of COVID-19, the WHO mantra has been to “Test, Test, Test” for the virus. 

The best way to detect and diagnose COVID-19 infection is using a test called RT-PCR. This test looks for the unique RNA nucleic acid, signature of the virus. 

However this increased need for testing has resulted in a worldwide shortage of chemical reagents, in particular those associated with the “lysis buffer” required to isolate the viral RNA. This shortage has limited the ability of testing labs all around the world to carry out sufficient testing. 

To address this shortage a team of hospital, university & biopharma scientists from University College Cork, Cork University Hospital, Cork Institute of Technology, Teagasc, APC Microbiome Ireland SFI Research Centre, University of Limerick and Eli Lilly Kinsale have come together to formulate a lysis buffer which will allow the country’s laboratories to continue to “Test, Test, Test” for COVID-19. 

The team formulated and validated a lysis buffer in the space of a week which can be used in the hospital testing Labs. Working remotely the scientists reached out to each other and devised varying formulations to test on the hospital RT-PCR system. The researchers in Microbiology and APC Microbiome Ireland in UCC, Teagasc and UL quickly made up the formulations and medical scientists in Microbiology; CUH evaluated each of them for efficacy using known positive and negative virus samples. This then allowed the team in Eli Lilly to provide assistance to produce the most suitable formulation which can now be distributed to Hospital testing labs throughout the country. 

“This buffer will ease the burden on hospital labs in their heroic efforts to screen and deliver diagnostic data” said Dr Martina Scallan, School of Microbiology. UCC, who spearheaded this initiative with Dr Brigid Lucey, CIT, President of the ACSLM. 

“Hopefully these efforts can help protect all the frontline medical, scientific and support staff in this battle to fight COVID-19,” Dr Lucey said.

University College Cork

Coláiste na hOllscoile Corcaigh

College Road, Cork T12 K8AF