Testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus is vital to public health systems, clinicians, hospitals, and researchers. That means a lot of tests being done every day in every country. Alberta alone is doing almost 10,000 tests a day. If everyone is conducting basically the same test using the same raw materials (such as reagents), shortages are inevitable as medical supply chains struggle to keep up with demand.
Even before we got hit with the COVID-19 epidemic Ian Lewis and his team at the University of Calgary were specializing in developing pathogen testing technology that could be done faster and more efficiently. When the pandemic hit, they looked at the testing landscape to see how they could apply their experience and expertise.
One area they identified was the need for an alternate testing tool that would not need the same reagents that are often in short supply. They focused on developing a proteomics-based assay for detecting the virus directly from nasal swabs. It would not require any specialized supplies and could enable up to 1,000 tests per day per instrument.
As part of our Alberta COVID-19 Rapid Response competition Ian Lewis received new funding to lead the effort which will diversify the testing regime for COVID-19.
He talked with freelance broadcaster Don Hill about the need for new testing strategies and how the project will approach the challenge.