Dr. Marc Romney with the Roche cobas 6800 system at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver in March 2020. (Vancouver Coastal Health photo)

VIDEO: New COVID-19 testing machine takes load off B.C.’s virologists and labs

Machine could test 1,000 samples in a 24-hour period

St. Paul’s Hospital has acquired a new automated COVID-19 testing machine – the first of its kind in Canada – which carries the ability to test hundreds of swabs at once, and help lift the heavy load off virologists.

The machine, called the Roche cobas 6800 system, was purchased by the Vancouver-based hospital in late March after receiving approval from Health Canada. The machine is traditionally used for HIV, hepatitis B and cytomegalovirus viral load testing.

In order to confirm someone is carrying the novel coronavirus, health officials take a nasopharyngeal swab, which is then sent to a laboratory to be tested. In most instances, these tests are being looked at manually by virologists and lab staff.

But Dr. Marc Romney, the medical director of microbiology and virology department at St, Paul’s, said with the help of the Roche 6800, dozens of swabs are able to be tested at once – with the potential of testing 1,000 samples in a 24-hour period.

“It’s a high throughput instrument which can test 96 samples per run,” Romney told Black Press Media. “Ninety-two can be patient samples, while the rest are done for quality assurance.”

Currently, B.C. health officials have focused testing efforts on current clusters and outbreaks, specifically within care homes which house elderly people most at-risk of seeing adverse impacts if they contract the virus.

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has said that officials are regularly reviewing testing protocols and will adapt as necessary.

Still, roughly 56,142 tests have been conducted across B.C. as of April 11, according to data from the BC Centre for Disease Control. Romney said that translates to an all hands on deck approach in the lab.

“Virology technologists are a rare breed in B.C. and Canada,” he said. “The Roche can do an overnight run and allows us to test 24 hours [a day].”

READ MORE: Think you have COVID-19? Here is what to do next

To know if someone has COVID-19, multi-step tests are conducted to look for any of the virus within the RNA (ribonucleic acid) of the collected swab. RNA carries the genetic information of the virus.

A piece of this testing includes using what scientists call the polymerase chain reaction method, which involves rapidly making billions of copies of a specific DNA sample – in this case the swab sample – in order to amplify it to a large enough scale to study it in detail and detect the virus.

With the new machine, “a very complicated and relative manual process has been converted into something that’s essentially fully automated,” Romney said, adding that the Roche uses PCR technology which “incorporates viral nucleic acid extraction, purification, amplification, and detection in a single instrument.”

In addition to the Roche 6800, swabs are still being manually tested by virologists and other staff within the department who have stepped up to help during the pandemic.

“The goal is to do more testing, that is our focus,” Romney said.

READ MORE: B.C.’s COVID-19 case total up by 45 after Easter weekend


@ashwadhwani
ashley.wadhwani@bpdigital.ca

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Province, feds, Wet’suwet’en announce progress in MOU talks

Community engagement process launched to implement northern B.C. First Nation’s rights and title

Dogs are matched with the person, not the person matched to the dog – Prince Rupert SPCA

Prince Rupert SPCA does their due diligence in adopting dogs to suitable human companions

Photo Gallery: Memorial totem pole raising in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole stands in memory of Prince Rupert carvers mother on Second Ave. West

Province, feds, Wet’suwet’en announce progress in MOU talks

External community engagement process launched to help implement Wet’suwet’en rights and title

Memorial totem pole raised in Prince Rupert

The memorial pole was a two year project led by local carver Lyle Campbell

578 British Columbians currently infected with COVID-19

Seventy-eight new cases confirmed in past 24 hours

Conservation seizes fawn illegally kept captive in Vancouver Island home

A Comox Valley resident charged and fined under the Wildlife Act

Pandemic could be driving more parents to get on board with flu shot: study

University of B.C. study gauges willingness for parents to vaccinate children for influenza

Watchdog clears Okanagan RCMP in death of man after arrest over alleged stolen pizzas

The man died in hospital after having difficulty breathing and broken ribs

Have you seen Berleen? B.C. pig destined for sanctuary goes missing

Berleen was less than two weeks from travelling to Manitoba when she vanished

Health Canada says several kids hospitalized after eating edible pot products

People warned not to store cannabis products where children can find them

‘It’s not just about me’: McKenna cites need to protect politicians from threats

Police investigation was launched after someone yelled obscenities at a member of McKenna’s staff

Michigan plans dedicated road lanes for autonomous vehicles

First study of its kind in the U.S. to figure out whether existing lanes or shoulders could be used

Most Read