The work of ULiège researchers has led to an automated test for the detection of Covid-19


The University of Liège (ULiège) is taking an active part in the effort to fight the coronavirus. The university has developed an automated test for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19. The technique has made it possible to increase the daily coronavirus detection capacity by 2,000 tests.

ULiège thus becomes one of the 5 Belgian reference centres for the detection of SARS-CoV-2. The technique could quickly be adopted by the four other reference centres (GSK, UCB, Janssen Pharmaceutica and KULeuven) as well as by other countries.

The secret behind the success of this new test, developed by ULiège, is the automation. This test is intended to be less dependent on reagents, at risk of shortage, and to reduce the intervention of human operators. On this subject, Fabrice Bureau, Vice-Rector for Research at the University of Liège, explains: "We had robots in the laboratories, but we could no longer operate them because the reagents were missing. So what we did at the University of Liège is to produce ourselves five reagents that will allow the automation of the tests."

To detect carriers of the virus, whether sick or asymptomatic, the test is done in three steps. The first step is to inactivate the virus, while retaining the genetic material. Then, the viral RNA is extracted. Thanks to the collaboration of researchers from GIGA, FARAH, GreenMat/CESAM of ULiège and the CHU of Liège, this step is now faster, automated and independent of commercial reagents.  Finally, RNA is converted into DNA which is then amplified to be detectable.

The optimisation of this technique will enable Belgium, and potentially other countries, to acquire significant testing capacities required in the fight against Covid-19.

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