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

‘The face of Belmont’: Custodial staff at Langford school pivot to support parents, students

Staff serve as point of contact for parents, students with school

Sooke temporary homeless shelter packs up early

Occupants to leave facility by June 22

Name of victims ‘ripped down’ from Victoria display

Organizers feel the act is ‘malicious’

Government Street becomes pedestrian-priority corridor

One block of downtown street closed to cars entirely

Greater Victoria transit usage sees gradual rise

Ridership still down 66 per cent compared to last year

March dental conference key to many of B.C.’s COVID-19 cases

Early infections from China, Iran were quickly contained

POLL: Are you sending your children back to school this month?

Classrooms looked decidedly different when students headed back to school for the… Continue reading

Cortes Island affordable housing project hangs by a thread

Regional decision makers resort to COVID-19 concerns despite virtual meeting option and push hearing to September

MAP: Dr. Henry reveals which B.C. regions have seen most COVID-19 cases

B.C. health officials release a first look at how the novel coronavirus has reached all corners of the province

North Island recreation camping site closed due to vandalism

Damage happens every year, forcing site manager to reallocate improvement budget to repairs

Tla-o-qui-aht First Nation woman, 26, fatally shot by police in Edmundston, N.B.

Police were conducting a well-being check at the time of the incident

Seniors to receive up to $500 in promised COVID-19 emergency aid in early July

The Liberal government first promised the extra help in mid-May, but had to create a new system to deliver the aid

VIDEO: Revelstoke bear wanders into Animal House pet store

Staff got ready to chase it out with a broom

Man found dead in his tent at Island homeless camp

Facebook posts tell of personal struggles and attempts to stay clean and sober

Most Read