Scaling up COVID-19 testing through open science hardware and local manufacturing in Ethiopia

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Scaling up COVID-19 testing through open science hardware and local manufacturing in Ethiopia*

PI’s: Dr Kassahun Tesfaye (Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute (EBTi), Ethiopia) & Dr Jenny Molloy (Dept of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology, University of Cambridge, UK) 

Collaborators: Dr Brook Esseye & Dr. Molalegn Bitew, (EBTi, Ethiopia), Dr Adey Felek (Addis Ababa University, Ethiopia)

The Ethiopian Biotechnology Institute (EBTi) has recently started testing clinical samples for SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA as part of Ethiopia’s national COVID-19 testing strategy. Currently, the Institute is testing 96 samples per day and wishes to scale up to better meet the needs of a country of over 110 million people. There are immediate and longer-term bottlenecks to increasing testing. In the immediate term, a major restriction is the manual sample processing workflow for RNA extraction and purification.  This study will investigate how to overcome these barriers using open source automation solutions to speed up EBTi’s existing validated testing workflow. In the medium term, reliance on the current testing technique (Reverse-Transcriptase Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction or RT-qPCR) will not scale sustainably because it is time-consuming and expensive. Therefore, we will partner on advancing production and validation of a locally designed and produced platform for a simpler, lower-cost and rapid diagnostic technique (Reverse-Transcriptase Loop-mediated Isothermal Amplification or RT-LAMP). RT-LAMP is emerging as the most promising rapid nucleic acid-based test for SARS-CoV-2.  The team aim to build on the rapid sharing of protocols and data in the Co-Is’ international networks to accelerate test optimisation, aiming to increase daily tests by 3 times in the next 3 months and 10 times in 12 months.

*This project is supported by a Cambridge-Africa ALBORADA Research Fund COVID-19 Emergency Award

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