Long-term investment in research, development, and innovation leads to solutions including Sidra Medicine’s new COVID-19 testing method
COVID-19 is giving people a greater understanding of why research, development, and innovation needs long-term investment to produce results, according to a heath chief at Sidra Medicine – which has developed a vital new method of testing for coronavirus.
Teams at the leading women’s and children’s hospital and medical research center – a member of Qatar Foundation – have devised an in-house approach that uses Sidra Medicine’s robotics and expertise to extract ribonucleic acid (RNA) from the swabs samples taken from individuals, and then test it for the presence of the virus.
This is enhancing Qatar’s COVID-19 testing capacity at a time when testing kits are in short supply globally due to demand, and avoids the risk of delays in processing swab samples leading to “false negative” results and people who have the disease being unaware of it. The method has now been made publicly-available to the global scientific community.
And Dr. Khalid Fakhro, Acting Chief Research Officer at Sidra Medicine, said: “This is something we were able to create in Qatar because of a visionary investment 20 years ago, designed to make this nation the top country in the world for biomedical and healthcare sciences.
I believe that one of the biggest positive aspects of living in a pandemic age is that people are starting to appreciate how long research, development, and science takes.
“Science, and research and development, is not something you build overnight. It took time to optimize this method, and I believe that one of the biggest positive aspects of living in a pandemic age is that people are starting to appreciate how long research, development, and science takes. “In Qatar, we have a vibrant scientific community, which is how you build sustainability, and the fact we were able to innovate and turn this method around in just 3-4 weeks was because sustainability is embedded in this community.”
The COVID-19 testing method was developed by teams led by Dr. Mohammad Rubayet Hasan from the Molecular Infectious Diseases Lab within Sidra Medicine’s Pathology Department, and Dr. Stephan Lorenz from the Clinical Genomics Lab in its Research Department. It aligns with standard clinical methods used worldwide and, due to being established in a controlled laboratory setting, was immediately ready for implementation after being validated.
We are one community looking to fight this virus; everyone has a role to play, because only by coming together as a community of thinkers will we be able to take that vital leap forward
“The root cause of the global testing issue is the lack of supplies of testing kits,” said Dr. Fakhro. “It is not about who will pay more for them; it is about global supply chains being under pressure because everyone wants the same kits. So in Qatar, we looked to develop alternatives.
“At Sidra Medicine, we have a national genomics core where we have so far sequenced 20,000 genomes, state-of-the-art equipment, and very, very well-trained staff. We knew how to extract RNA from very small samples, and we have the robotics to do this. And, as a national genome lab, we are ready to operate at scale.
“It is a very innovative way of applying your competitive advantage in robotics and your understanding of chemistry on a fundamental level to addressing a real-world problem. The golden rule in tackling coronavirus is to test, test, test, because that is the only way we will understand its prevalence, and the countries which do this most effectively will see the best outcomes.”
According to Dr. Fakhro, collaboration across Qatar’s scientific community has been a constant factor of the nation’s response to the pandemic. “The moment coronavirus started spreading, we all came together to see what projects we could undertake, where we could collaborate, and what our priorities should be,” he said. “International collaboration is also important, as no country can answer all the big questions on its own.
“It’s important to realize that those conducting research are on the COVID-19 frontline. We are one community looking to fight this virus; everyone has a role to play, because only by coming together as a community of thinkers will we be able to take that vital leap forward.”
Dr. Patrick Tang, Division Chief of Pathology Sciences at Sidra Medicine, said: “The main challenge in developing our testing method is that we had to work fast, with experiments that would normally be conducted over many weeks being finished in days.
The current challenge is that the world needs faster and more accurate testing for COVID-19, and many groups in Qatar and around the world are addressing that challenge right now
“The advantage is that we are using materials that are not in short supply, and so there is less global competition for them. And as we have made our method publicly available, any lab in the world can adapt it to suit their own equipment. The current challenge is that the world needs faster and more accurate testing for COVID-19, and many groups in Qatar and around the world are addressing that challenge right now.”