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

Comox Valley board of education approves facility spending plan

Projects include roofing, sewage system upgrade, gym resurfacing

Vancouver Island’s current COVID-19 case count officially hits zero

Of the 130 recorded Island Health cases, five people have died, 125 recovered

Valley artist gifts B.C.’s health officer with symbolic hummingbird

A special connection brought the piece to Dr. Bonnie Henry’s desk in Victoria

Black Lives Matter events planned for Courtenay

Peaceful gatherings are scheduled for Simms Park Friday and Saturday

Arnott taking medical leave as Comox mayor

Coun. Ken Grant will step in a mayor for time being

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

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Plan in place for BC Ferries to start increasing service levels

Ferry corporation reaches temporary service level agreement with province

B.C. starts to see employment return under COVID-19 rules

Jobless rate for young people still over 20% in May

Alert Bay resident carves tribute to his community kicking COVID-19’s butt

‘Our little village crushed the curve with love and commitment’

End of an Era: Tofino hair studio closes shop

“We were getting excited to start ramping up and then all of sudden we had to close our doors.”

Kelowna Mountie on desk duty following ‘aggressive’ arrest

The officer involved in an arrest that took place on May 30 in Kelowna has been placed on administrative duties

Protests shift to memorializing George Floyd amid push for change

‘There is something better on the other side of this,’ says Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom

Most Read