How to Increase COVID-19 Testing Capabilities

By Ayisha I. A. Malik, Cole-Parmer, EMEA

Use these products from Cole-Parmer to solve your VTM supply delays and to streamline your process.

If you’ve been following media updates, you must have noticed the initiatives that have been put in place to control and eliminate COVID-19; a plethora of programmes rolled out and revised to minimise the spread of the virus. As we emerge from lockdown and adjust to the new societal norms, the focus falls on the need for increased and definitive virus testing. However, there have been several issues with upscaling COVID-19 testing amenities to meet the growing needs of the global community.

So far, two kinds of tests have been used to qualify SARS-Cov-2 infections in patients – viral and antibody detection.

Viral testing

Viral testing primarily uses PCR-based technology to assess samples collected from the inside of your nose; to verify if it contains SARS-CoV-2 DNA. This method can be used to clearly identify if you have an active infection. While some testing sites are equipped to process these samples and provide results quickly, others may need to transport the nasopharyngeal swabs to a laboratory for onward processing.

Products for Viral Testing

Antibody testing

Serological assays such as antibody tests play an important role in understanding the epidemiology of the COVID-19 virus. These tests detect the antibodies that your body develops in response to a SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, it is only one to three weeks after the onset of your symptoms, that these antibodies would be detectable in blood or serum samples. At that point, both your symptoms and your infection would have subsided considerably. Therefore, antibody tests are best used for determining infection and immunity data but not for diagnostic purposes.

What is viral transport media?

As established earlier, a large proportion of testing clinics do not have the capacity to process the samples they collect; these must be safely transported to a testing lab. For accurate diagnosis, the integrity of the specimens needs to be well-preserved until it can be processed. Viral transport medium (VTM) is a special concoction that helps maintain the integrity of virus particles that may be present in the sample collected.

Bottleneck in the testing supply chain

Access to handy sterile aliquots of VTM has become a bottleneck in the testing process. It is most commonly required in 3, 5, and 10 mL vials; with a 5 mL tube typically holding 2 mL of solution and a 10 mL vial holding 3 mL. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends using commercially available VTMs or ones that can be safely created and sterilised in the lab.

Long delays in the testing supply chain has caused several health organisations to purchase VTM in bulk and manually pipette it into cryovials to produce usable aliquots. This is not only a labour-intensive process, but also one that can potentially introduce contamination and a lot of inaccuracies. A range of Cole-Parmer products can be leveraged to address this challenge and create a practical solution.

Bottling VTM with Cole-Parmer

The Best Pump for the JobMasterflex® Ismatec® Reglo Digital Miniflex® Pumps

Ismatec MasteflexLive Cloud Enabled Single Channel Digital Miniflex PumpUsing a peristaltic pump system can streamline and improve most manual dispensing processes. They offer an accurate and sterile solution for quickly bottling large quantities of fluids such as bulk supplies of VTM. Besides these inherent benefits of using a peristaltic pump, labs and manufacturing facilities can gain many further advantages by using the Masterflex Ismatec Reglo Digital Miniflex pumps. They are available in single- and dual-channel models.

To ensure a sterile environment, manufacturers carry out VTM bottling activities in a cleanroom; whereas if you are in a lab, this would have to be carried out in a safety cabinet or fume hood. Anyone, who has ever worked in this setting can vouch for the limited space that is available in a safety cabinet. The compact design of the pumps (14.7 x 15.7 x 22.9 cm) attribute to a small footprint that allows for a clutter-free and smooth bottling operation even in a small fume hood.

With a flow rate range of 0.004 to 365 mL/min, the pumps offer accurate and reliable fluid transfer. They are designed for continuous run, volume dispense, and time dispense modes, with features such as batch control and interval time; allowing you to optimise the bottling process that suits you best. Each pump comes with anti-drip and speed ramping technology to minimise sample loss and spillage. With accessories like the foot switch or hand-held remote, you can design a bottling protocol that offers maximum speed and efficiency within your lab set-up.

The touchscreen interface not only offers crisp resolution and a wide viewing angle, but an intuitive and easy-to-use control panel. The pumps can also be operated via their analogue remote control or the cloud-based fluid handling platform MasterflexLive®.

Finally, these pumps have the memory to save and retrieve commonly used dispense programs. This not only ensures rapid set up but also eliminates the need for entering the same instructions every time you start bottling.

The best pump tubing for the job

Masterflex® BioPharm® Plus Platinum-Cured Silicone TubingMasterflex® BioPharm® Plus Platinum-Cured Silicone Tubing

The tubing used in your peristaltic pump is at the core of your liquid handling process. Being the only wettedcomponent, tubing properties need to be carefully considered before they are selected for an application. The Masterflex Ismatec Reglo Digital Miniflex pumps are designed to work with the tubing range in sizes 13, 14, 16 and 25.

The Masterflex BioPharm Plus platinum-cured silicone tubing offer excellent bio compatibility, the best accuracy, and repeatability for high purity dispensing applications. Given these properties and the proven longer life span compared to any other platinum and peroxide silicone tubing formulations in the market, it is the perfect choice for sterile VTM bottling.

Other accessories

Cole-Parmer PolarSafe Blue Cryovial Rack 40 vial capacity

Cole-Parmer® PolarSafe® Cryovial Racks

While the pumps and tubes come together to offer an excellent dispensing and filling solution, if

argos technologies polarsafe cryogenic vials

PolarSafe® Cryogenic Vials

you are setting up a brand new VTM bottling operation, it is worthwhile to note that Cole-Parmer has a large selection of products that can support your needs for the new set-up. You can find dispensing needles and other accessories such as the as the 3 mL and 5 mL Cole-Parmer® PolarSafe® cryogenic vials, (shown above as the featured image) with leakproof seals and printed barcodes, as well as autoclavable polypropylene cryovial racks in our portfolio of products.

Final words

In today’s connected world, only if we end the pandemic everywhere, can we end the pandemic anywhere. This means that the number of COVID-19 cases need to go down to zero in every country before we can claim to have eradicated the disease. To tackle the problem holistically, global efforts to control, test and treat individuals need to be ramped up. Finally, only after an effective vaccine has been created, can we plan for a future that is not detected by COVID-19.

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