On the last day of March, the CEITEC institute at Masaryk University started coronavirus testing on samples delivered from the specimen collection tents of the University Hospital Brno, thereby expanding the testing capacity in the region by hundreds of samples a day.
Coronavirus tests on clinical samples are processed by the Centre for Molecular Medicine at CEITEC MU, which runs an accredited healthcare lab specialising in molecular and genetic diagnostics. Before they could start testing, the team led by Boris Tichý had to wait for a delivery of the substances required to isolate the viral RNA.
Isolating the genetic information of the virus is the first step in testing. To detect the presence of the virus in patient samples, experts use a set of chemical substances to destroy the virus and isolate the RNA containing its genetic information. There are specialised isolation kits for isolating the viral RNA but due to long delivery times, the researchers at CEITEC MU decided to develop their own isolation method.
“On the last weekend in March, we ran a parallel test of 80 samples from the University Hospital Brno to validate our methods. This included the successful validation of a method to isolate RNA developed as a joint project by the Czech research institutions. Starting from the end of March, some of the samples taken from patients in the collection tents will be tested in the laboratories of Masaryk University. This is an effective way for our university to help the overloaded hospital departments,” says team leader Boris Tichý while stressing that the research labs will not take part in collecting the samples.
University database to help counter the lack of chemicals
However, the labs designated to conduct the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 tests all over the Czech Republic are still struggling with a lack of chemicals. A new database created by Masaryk University helps tackle this issue by listing the laboratories and companies that have the chemicals required for the testing in stock and can offer them to labs that have the necessary know-how and equipment for the testing.
“The database will speed up the transfer of chemicals to the testing labs, where the experts and the necessary equipment are available to conduct the tests. The project is supported by the National Institute of Public Health, which coordinates the diagnostics in the Czech Republic and works closely with MU to create the database,” says Šárka Pospíšilová, the MU vice-rector for research and doctoral studies. She also heads the Centre for Molecular Biology and Gene Therapy at the Internal Haematology and Oncology Clinic, a joint department of the University Hospital Brno and the MU Faculty of Medicine. The lab at the centre started testing samples for coronavirus two weeks ago.