Mobile diagnostic testing lab for COVID-19

Team 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.

No.Lab nameThroughput
1Sample Prep  100 samples / shift
2Sample Processing100 samples / shift
3Sample Testing Lab320 samples / shift
4Hub-Mobile Warehouse  Feeds the Satellite Labs for 1 week

Project timelines with key milestones and highlights

Concept development work commencesMarch 16
Nationwide lockdown startsMarch 25
Final version of Concept Note submitted to IISc; ODAA office at IISc forwarded the Notes to PSA office for CSR supportMarch 30  
TKM ambulance van donation through CSR to ODAA, IISc
(Vehicle received at the campus)
April 5
(May 12)
Two Tata Winger vans donated by Tata Motors under CSR reach IISc          April 15          
Curfew passes for team members to work during lockdown receivedApril 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 deploymentApril 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 BMCApril 30
New vehicle order confirmed (SBI Foundation Grant)May 4
Equipment procurement starts after finalizing requirements and suppliersMay 11
Final version of Lab Designs sent for ICMR approvalMay 13
New van reaches Bangalore from manufacturing plant in MP during lockdownMay 14  
ICMR Design Approval ReceivedMay 16
Sample Processing Lab fabrication work commences (Tata Winger Van)May 16
Design mock-up for Sample-Processing van completedMay 20
Mock-up of Sample Processing van approved – detailed design and final fabrication work startsMay 21
Sample Testing Lab (Force Widebody T2 van) registered and sent for fabricationMay 22  
Sample Testing Lab mock-up ready for review  May 23  
Sample testing Lab mock-up reviewed and improvements identifiedMay 24
Sample processing van received from fabricatorJune 18
Procurement of equipment for sample collection van started
June 20
Funding support from Collins Aerospace and United Way Bangalore received for sample collection vanJune 22
Sample testing van received from fabricatorJune 23
Successful completion of testing with over 50 clinical samples with sample processing and testing vans. SBI Foundation grant project completedJune 30
Fabrication work commenced on sample collection vanJuly 4
Collection Van Mockup ready for review
July 6
Collection Van Mockup ready for reviewed and improvements identifiedJuly 7
Structural & Panelling work completionJuly 15
Quality Check on the work being completed- fitment of all Equipment & Accessories, Storage Cabinets, Partition doors, Windows with Gloves, Flooring work, Electrical worksJuly 31
Training to BMCRI team on all the three Vans- Sample Collection, Sample Processing & Sample TestingAug 4
Launch of MITR Labs- Mobile Infection Testing & Reporting consisting of Sample Collection, Sample Processing & Sample Testing VansAug 5
Processing Van & Testing Van handed over to BMCRIAug 7
Collection Van handed over to BMCRI Aug 12

Team leads:

  • 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

Team members:

  • 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), Collins Aerospace, United Way Bengaluru, Borqs Software, BMCRI, and several others.

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