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Irish scientists develop breakthrough formula to ease global coronavirus test shortages

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Dr Brigid Lucey

Dr Brigid Lucey

Dr Brigid Lucey

ELEVEN Irish scientists have developed an effective formula for a key component of the Covid-19 testing process and made it available to help ease the global shortage of testing agents for the virus.

The Irish scientists, working around the clock, developed the formula which can be mass produced - and was quality approved by medical scientists who are testing for Covid-19.

Dr Brigid Lucey of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), who is also President of the Academy of Clinical Science and Laboratory Medicine, said the collaborative effort was aimed at facilitating the desperate effort by Ireland and other countries around the world to test for Covid-19 in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for controlling the pandemic.

"Everyone understands the importance of testing for the virus and we realised that there were concerns over key elements of the testing process being in short supply for laboratories," she said.

While concern had to date focused on the so-called 'reagents' used in the latter part of the viral test, experts were also deeply concerned about a shortage of a critical element called a lysis buffer.

This is one of the integral parts of the Covid-19 test. The agent not only strips the virus to be analysed from the respiratory secretions in the test sample but it also renders the highly infectious viral agent safe in a laboratory environment.

However, laboratories around the world - including in Ireland - were concerned about supplies of lysis buffer which, while only used in tiny quantities, is a critical component of the entire Covid-19 test process.

For a lot of centres, dwindling lysis buffer supplies were causing the most alarm. Dr Lucey worked closely with her University College Cork (UCC) colleague, virologist Dr Martina Scallan, to spearhead a cross-agency drive to develop a formula for the lysis buffer which could be mass produced in Ireland - and that would be made available via the Internet to other countries threatened with supply shortages. Risk assessment was also conducted.

"We developed four formulas and submitted them to a laboratory that was doing Covid-19 testing for quality verification," she said. "They chose the best formula and validated it for use.

"It basically means that Ireland will have more than adequate supplies of lysis buffer as the testing regime for the virus is increased."

Dr Lucey said the development was the result of close collaboration between CIT, UCC, Cork University Hospital, the University of Limerick, Teagasc and Eli Lilly.

"The unstinting cooperation, positivity and generosity of all involved, with participants drawn from the public and private biopharma sectors as well as hospital laboratories and third level research facilities, has enabled a successful outcome which may benefit testing laboratories everywhere," she said.

"We hope that these efforts can help all those working so tirelessly in the forefront of the battle to contain and overcome Covid-19."

The Irish team will make the formula for their lysis buffer, together with its performance characteristics, available
via Internet science sites to assist other countries worldwide battling the pandemic through exhaustive testing.

The team who developed, tested and validated the lysis buffer formula included Dr Lucey (CIT), Dr Scallan (UCC), Catherine Dempsey and Isabelle O’Callaghan (CUH), Dr John MacSharry (UCC), Prof Paul Cotter and Paula O’Connor (Teagasc), Dr Sarah Hudson and Dr Edel Durack (UL) as well as Dr Conor Horgan and Dr Humphrey Moynihan (Lilly).

Online Editors