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CEITEC MU laboratories receive official permission to perform coronavirus testing

Three Masaryk University laboratories were set aside for possible coronavirus testing.

On 20th March, Masaryk University has received permission from the National Institute of Public Health to carry out coronavirus testing on CEITEC´s premises.

As long as the ordered chemicals arrive, CEITEC laboratories at the Bohunice campus will be able to start testing the first samples. This is estimated in approximately one week’s time. For the last two days, doctors have been using the capacity of the Center of Molecular Biology and Gene Therapy of the Internal Hematology and Oncology Clinic of the Faculty Hospital Brno and the Faculty of Medicine of Masaryk University.

This particular center is coordinating efforts with the Faculty Hospital Brno in order to ensure screening of all collected samples in Brno. Also, the CEITEC institute, a center of excellence integrating life and material sciences, as well as advanced materials and technologies, joined the collective efforts, and its scientists are working on new methods of coronavirus detection.

“We ordered isolation kits, a set of chemicals for virus destruction and isolation of its genetic information in the form of RNA. However, it is not certain that if we receive the kits, whether we will have a sufficient amount of them. Therefore, we are now trying to develop our own isolation method,” commented Boris Tichy, Head of the Genomics Core Facility, who is coordinating the coronavirus efforts at CEITEC MU.

Isolation of the virus is the first step, in which is CEITEC MU perfectly equipped. “We have a laboratory for working with dangerous organisms that meets the second highest biosecurity standard. We can work here with infectious material, such as samples taken from humans. In this laboratory, the viruses in the samples are essentially killed, and the ribonucleic acid, the genetic information of the virus, is isolated from them. Isolates are no longer infectious and can be analysed in standard laboratories,” added Tichy.

Boris Tichý inside the main building of CEITEC MU institute.

RNA isolates travel from a secure laboratory to a room where the pipetting robot mixes them with the reagents and prepares them for the most important phase - PCR diagnostics, which is used to detect the presence of coronavirus in samples collected from patients by doctors. “The process from taking the sample to isolating the viral RNA, to the resulting positive or negative test results takes at least four hours. However, it is necessary to account for relatively demanding sample handling and logistics associated with the transport of samples from collection points, including the decontamination of sampling containers and the administration of the whole process, to avoid any sample confusion,” described Tichy.

“At this point, our scientists can help in the hospital laboratories. The testing at CEITEC can start within one week, at the earliest, once we receive the appropriate chemicals and verify that everything works as it should,” responded Tichy, especially if the number of people that need to be tested significantly increases. He added that the institute´s laboratories are rather backed up at the moment.

Research laboratories will only test samples supplied by hospitals which provide qualified sample collection from people with COVID-19 symptoms. The laboratories, themselves, will not collect any samples from residents.