Rambam and Technion Present Pooling Method for Accelerated COVID-19 Testing
Researchers at Rambam Health Care Campus and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have joined forces to investigate whether a method for pooling test samples for COVID-19 can provide faster and more timely results.
March 19, 2020 A team of researchers from Rambam Health Care Campus and Technion – Israel Institute of Technology have successfully tested a pooling methodology that will allow for faster testing of suspected COVID-19 samples. COVID-19 testing generally takes several hours or more for each sample, and the researchers wanted to see whether it would be possible to test multiple samples at once (referred to as “pooling”). The trial was completed quickly, thanks to support from Israel’s Ministry of Health.
The research team implemented the pooling method in experiments that combined either 32 or 64 patient samples in a single test tube. If, after testing, the pool showed the presence of COVID-19, each sample was tested individually in order to identify the infected patient(s). The team’s efforts were successful, even when only one sample from a pool tested positive. Currently, approximately 1,200 tests are performed in Israel each day, and there is no monitoring of asymptomatic carriers. Pool testing could also be used in scenarios where there is a need to test significant numbers of people, such as at airports or in old-age homes.
Dr. Michael Halberthal, Rambam’s Director General noted, “This collaboration between Rambam and Technion, benefitting all of humanity, is just one example of the many joint projects between the two institutions. These collaborations are designed to harness the multidisciplinary capabilities of researchers from both institutions for the advancement of medicine.”
The Rambam team was led by Dr. Yuval Geffen, Director of the Microbiology Laboratory, Dr. Moran Szwarcwort-Cohen, Director of the Virology Laboratory, and Dr. Halberthal.
Explained Professor Roy Kishony, head of the research group in the Faculty of Biology at Technion, “This is not a scientific breakthrough, but a demonstration of effectively using the existing methodology and even the existing equipment to significantly increase the volume of samples tested per day. Although there are some logistical challenges in implementing this method, we expect that it will greatly increase the number of samples tested per day so that we can identify the asymptomatic carriers. This approach should reduce the chances of infection and flatten the infection curve.”
In the photo: Rambam researchers checking test results.
Photography: Rambam Health Care Campus