Researchers at the Technion and Rambam Health Care Campus have successfully tested a method that will dramatically increase the current COVID-19 testing capacity using existing available resources. This method, known as pooling, enables simultaneous testing of dozens of samples. Its implementation has the potential to greatly accelerate the rate of testing and detection of the population’s COVID-19-infected patients.
The trial was completed in a matter of days thanks to the support of the Ministry of Health and the close collaboration between the Technion and Rambam.
Testing for COVID-19 is currently being conducted in Israel with the focus on people with specific symptoms. The current rate of testing — about 1,200 a day — does not allow for monitoring of asymptomatic carriers in the population, which is vital to curb the epidemic.
COVID-19 is diagnosed with PCR testing, which is common for virus monitoring. This test examines the presence of a unique genetic sequence of viruses in a sample taken from the patient. The test takes several hours, thus generating a bottleneck in identifying COVID-19-infected people in Israel and around the world.
The new approach allows molecular testing to be performed on a “combined sample,” taken from 32 or 64 patients, significantly accelerating the testing rate. In rare cases where the joint sample is found to be positive, scientists can test an individual test for each of the samples to determine the positive.
Under normal circumstances, a complex experiment like this would take months to complete. But thanks to the commitment and ingenuity of the Technion and Rambam teams, the initial experiment was completed in less than four days. This is just one of the projects currently underway at the Technion to combat the spread of COVID-19.
The experiment was led jointly by Rambam researchers and Technion researcher Dr. Idan Yelin, with Noga Aharony, Einat Tamar and Dina Berenbaum in Prof. Kishony’s laboratory and with Amir Argoetti from Prof. Yael Mandel-Gutfreund’s laboratory. Prof. Roy Kishony holds the Marilyn and Henry Taub Chair in Life Sciences. Dr. Esti Messer, head of the Technon Biological Safety Department, set up the dedicated laboratory and accompanied the entire experiment. At Rambam Health Care Campus, the team was led by Dr. Yuval Gefen and Dr. Moran Szwarcwort-Cohen with support from Prof. Michael Halberthal, Rambam general director and CEO.