Mobile diagnostic testing lab for COVID-19Team Lead: Sai Siva Gorthi
There is widespread consensus that the best solution to combat the COVID-19 pandemic is to test large parts of the population and effectively contain all infected people. The pandemic has revealed that the current testing infrastructure is unable to scale up to meet the challenge of testing millions of people in a timely fashion. The gold standard test for COVID-19 is the real time RT-PCR test. The test is carried out through a real-time PCR machine and requires specialised labs and personnel to collect, process and test the samples. The currently available instruments are highly expensive and require highly trained personnel for operation. Thus, the diagnostic testing of COVID-19 is restricted to few centralized laboratories of national institutions and large hospitals. Hence, samples collected from different parts of the state/country have to be transported to these facilities before they can be analyzed. This makes the total turnaround time for a given subject to get tested be around 2 to 3 days, that too for a limited number.
The mobile labs solution proposed here enables the same gold-standard based testing of RT-PCR but at the door-steps of the individuals with a significantly reduced turnaround time while retaining the throughputs as that of the centralized labs.
Fig. 1. The mobile labs-nodal hub concept: Sample Collection to Report Generation
The mobile lab concept will be implemented in terms of the hub and spoke model. A 20-foot container equipped with storage, reagents/kits aliquotion area, and bio-waste management facilities will serve as the nodal hub, while the mobile sample collection, processing and testing labs will serve as the satellites or spokes. The hub and its satellite labs can travel to COVID-19 infected districts/ areas, with the hub parked at a location. The fleet of mobile labs for sample collection, processing and testing will travel through the district collecting and analyzing samples. At the end of the day, the mobile labs will return to the hub for storage, bio-waste disposal and for refueling of consumables and PPE. The model schematic is shown in Figure 1.
The hub will be equipped with refrigeration facilities for storage of samples and reagents and also bio waste disposal facilities. The hub will also contain a kit loading workbench for aliquoting reagents and preloading cartridges. The hub will also stock up on enough consumables and PPE kits to sustain the operation of the mobile lab fleet for a week. The hubs will travel weekly to a centralized location (for example, a regional headquarters) for waste disposal and restocking a week’s worth of consumables and other essentials.
The mobile sample prep and processing labs will be equipped with a BSL-2 level biosafety cabinet and all other necessary equipment for the COVID-19 sample collection and aliquotion in one lab, RNA isolation in another lab. The mobile sample testing lab will be equipped with RT-PCR machine(s) and all the necessary equipment to perform PCR on the purified RNA samples delivered by the mobile sample processing labs. This parallel processing capability enables in both providing a safe contained environment for the personnel to work as well as a convenient and safe environment for subjects/populations to get tested. Throughputs of all the mobile labs (sample prep lab, sample processing lab and sample testing lab) are listed in the below table.
|1||Sample Prep||100 samples / shift|
|2||Sample Processing||100 samples / shift|
|3||Sample Testing Lab||320 samples / shift|
|4||Hub-Mobile Warehouse||Feeds the Satellite Labs for 1 week|
Project timelines with key milestones and highlights
|Concept development work commences||March 16|
|Nationwide lockdown starts||March 25|
|Final version of Concept Note submitted to IISc; ODAA office at IISc forwarded the Notes to PSA office for CSR support||March 30|
|TKM ambulance van donation through CSR to ODAA, IISc |
(Vehicle received at the campus)
|April 5 |
|Two Tata Winger vans donated by Tata Motors under CSR reach IISc||April 15|
|Curfew passes for team members to work during lockdown received||April 17|
|Operations manager on-boarded. Process of contacting suppliers and obtaining quotes starts.||April 20|
|Government of Karnataka extends support for operations of mobile diagnostic labs once they are ready for deployment||April 24|
|SBI Foundation CSR grant sanction letter received for two vans conversion to mobile sample processing and testing labs. (IISc receives 1st tranche)||April 28 (May 15)|
|IHEC clearance obtained from BMC||April 30|
|New vehicle order confirmed (SBI Foundation Grant)||May 4|
|Equipment procurement starts after finalizing requirements and suppliers||May 11|
|Final version of Lab Designs sent for ICMR approval||May 13|
|New van reaches Bangalore from manufacturing plant in MP during lockdown||May 14|
|ICMR Design Approval Received||May 16|
|Sample Processing Lab fabrication work commences (Tata Winger Van)||May 16|
|Design mock-up for Sample-Processing van completed||May 20|
|Mock-up of Sample Processing van approved – detailed design and final fabrication work starts||May 21|
|Sample Testing Lab (Force Widebody T2 van) registered and sent for fabrication||May 22|
|Sample Testing Lab mock-up ready for review||May 23|
|Sample testing Lab mock-up reviewed and improvements identified||May 24|
|Sample processing van received from fabricator||June 18|
|Procurement of equipment for sample collection van started||June 20|
|Funding support from Collins Aerospace and United Way Bangalore received for sample collection van||June 22|
|Sample testing van received from fabricator||June 23|
|Successful completion of testing with over 50 clinical samples with sample processing and testing vans. SBI Foundation grant project completed||June 30|
|Fabrication work commenced on sample collection van||July 4|
- Prof. Sai Siva Gorthi – Associate Professor, Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc
- Prof. Deepak K Saini – Associate Professor, Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics, IISc
- Arun B – Director, ShanMukha Innovations, SID
- Rajesh S – PhD Student, Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc
- Sujith Vijayan- Product Design, ShanMukha Innovations, SID
- Yatish Dasari – Operations Manager, ShanMukha Innovations, SID
We would like to thank the extraordinary support received from PSA’s office (Dr. Sapna), SBI Foundation, Tata Motors, Dr.Venkatesh RGUHS, IISc Director, Deputy Directors, Registrar, Divisional Chairs,Dept Chair, IISc ODAA (Dr. Ram), CIDR lab, SID (Prof. Gurumoorthy, Raj, C S Murali), IISc Finance department, Special officer, Government of Karnataka (MoHFW), BMCRI and several others. In these challenging times, all the guidance and encouragement received has enabled us to develop India’s one and only ICMR approved mobile COVID-19 diagnostic (BLS2+) lab solution from concept to reality in a short period of 3 months.