A new testing method for Covid-19, developed by Sidra Medicine, part of Qatar Foundation, aims to reduce global shortage of testing kits and is a proof of Qatar’s resilience, an official told Gulf Times.

Sidra Medicine had recently announced the development of an in-house RNA (Ribonucleic acid) extraction method using alternative test components.

“It is a testing mechanism to help address the global shortage in test kits. When extraction kits are limited, the delays in sample processing can lead to natural degradation of the viral RNA, potentially leading to false negative results. Our method helps to address the challenges around the shortage of materials and delays in Covid-19 tests,” said Dr Khalid Fakhro, acting chief research officer of Sidra Medicine.

According to the official, the new method helps in getting accurate results within four to eight hours and since it is under Open Access Licence, it is open to any healthcare organisation for their consideration.

“Our in-house extraction approach is an example of the resilience that Qatar has built by investing in sustainable biomedical research. It ensures we have alternative methods available to test for coronavirus even when there are critical shortages in supply chains around the world,” Fakhro said.

“It was a collaborative method developed by the pathology and research departments by leveraging our enhanced robotics infrastructure. Combined with the team’s experience in single-cell RNA research, we have a solution that matches standard clinical methods being used worldwide, but also requires less reagents and running time,” explained Dr Fakhro.

Sidra Medicine is already using the new test method for in-house testing on inpatients as well as other visitors to the facility.

“Sidra Medicine is not designated to treat Covid-19 patients however in order to keep our hospital free from Covid-19 and for the safety of our patients, their families and staff, we test for the coronavirus using the new method on our inpatients and their guardians or companions staying with them in the hospital. Where applicable, certain staff are also tested,” Dr Stephan Lorenz, director of Integrated Genomics Services at Sidra Medicine, said.

According to Lorenz, the new approach reduces the cost of the most expensive part of the Covid-19 lab testing, which is the extraction and purification of the genetic material from the virus.

“It is most cost efficient when used to test large batches of samples at the same time. Our testing approach has equivalent accuracy to the commercially available methods used around the world. Most importantly, this method does not compete for the same commercial reagents used in most clinical laboratories,” he said.

“This method is of global importance as other nations face limited extraction kit availability and have to consider alternative options. To share this innovation, we have published the protocol under an Open Access Licence for the benefit of other healthcare organisations around the world,” Lorenz said.

“The new high-throughput extraction method can be ramped up to process 4,000 extractions per day as needed. Since it does not require reagents used in current commercial extraction systems, it is more cost efficient and also bypasses current shortages in commercially available extraction reagents. Our testing approach has equivalent accuracy to the commercially available methods used around the world to test for Covid-19,” he added.