Stephen McNeice
Stephen McNeice

14.49 7 Apr 2020


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Irish scientists at a number of institutions have teamed up and successfully formulated a reagent to 'ease the burden' on labs testing for COVID-19 here.

While the World Health Organisation has encouraged countries to 'test, test, test' for the virus, a global shortage of a reagent - a chemical substance needed in the testing process - has proven one of the barriers to ramping up testing here.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar last week acknowledged that a 'shortage of reagents' was the main reason behind delays in some people receiving their coronavirus test results.

Now, scientists based at several Irish universities - including University of Limerick, Cork Institute of Technology and UCC - and companies have teamed up to formulate a lysis buffer (the reagent needed) for use in labs here.

The scientists worked remotely to formulate and validate their own lysis buffer, and now manufacturer Eli Lilly Kinsale is working to 'scale up' the production for distribution to labs here.

The scientists behind the effort say it took less than two weeks for the project to reach this point.

Dr Martina Scallan from the School of Microbiology at UCC said the buffer "will ease the burden on hospital labs in their heroic efforts to screen and deliver diagnostic data".

Dr Edel Durack from UL's Bernal Bio Laboratories noted: “This was validated by University Hospital Limerick against one of the commercially prepared products and we got the go ahead that it had passed validation, so we went back into the lab to prepare another volume.

"The pharma companies are looking after the upscaling of it, so they will be sourcing larger quantities of the reagents needed."

The team behind the project say it's an example of Irish scientists, academics and biopharma firms teaming up to pool expertise, chemical supplies, technical knowledge and facilities during an "urgent situation".

Main image: File photo of small vials in a lab where COVID-19 testing is taking place. Picture by: USA TODAY Network/SIPA USA/PA Images

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