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IMU’s IRDI Develops a Novel Strategy for Screening of Covid-19

04 Sep 2020

In December 2019, an outbreak of pneumonia caused by a novel coronavirus was reported in Wuhan, the province of Hubei, China which rapidly spread across China and subsequently to other countries around the world. In February 2020, the disease was officially named by the World Health Organization (WHO) as Coronavirus Disease 2019 (Covid-19). Compared with the SARS-CoV contributing to the SARS outbreak in 2003, SARS-CoV-2 which causes Covid-19 has a stronger transmission capacity. With the number and severity of cases escalating, the WHO declared Covid-19 a pandemic on 19 March, 2020. Inevitably, Covid-19 has not only been the latest threat to global health, but also poses critical challenges to the public health, research, and medical communities. The rapid global spread of COVID-19 has thus inflicted significant health and socioeconomic burden on Malaysia and many other countries. Medical and health scientists from around the globe have been actively involved in scientific research to come out with vaccines or medical solutions in anticipation of tackling Covid-19. The Institute for Research, Development and Innovation (IRDI) of the International Medical University (IMU) has also joined the race to conduct scientific research as part of the battle for Covid-19. As a private medical university in Kuala Lumpur, IMU has responded to the call for national service by volunteering to perform the SARS-CoV-2 testing to help ease the congestion at the National Public Health Laboratory (NPHL), Ministry of Health (MOH) Malaysia. As positive cases continued to rise in Malaysia during the Movement Control Order (MCO), public health laboratories were overwhelmed by a huge number of samples collected for Covid-19 testing. The confirmation of positive cases of Covid-19 has solely been based on the detection of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) using real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (qRT-PCR).

Novel Sample Pooling Strategy
In view of this, IMU’s IRDI team has developed a novel sample pooling strategy, which involved obtaining pools of 10 clinical swab specimens from the nasal pharynx or oropharynx (NP/OP). The pooled specimens are subsequently tested by qRT-PCR instead of testing individual samples according to the WHO-Charite´ protocol. The IRDI team has successfully demonstrated the feasibility of using pooled testing strategy as it shows similar detection sensitivity to individual sample testing. With increased testing capacity and conservation of resources, sample pooling strategy is undeniably a cost-effective method for large scale diagnostic testing of Covid-19 without compromising on the accuracy of the testing. The data had been communicated to MOH, in the hope that public health laboratories may adopt pooled testing to test more samples.

IRDI’s experience on converting a research lab setting to become a dedicated Covid-19 testing diagnostic laboratory will be published in International e-Journal of Science, Medicine and Education. In the article titled ‘A Malaysian Private University’s Immediate Response to Covid-19 Screening’, the Covid-19 team from IRDI will be sharing their challenges and lessons learned in Covid-19 testing.

Sharing of Expertise and Experience The pivotal role of IRDI as one of the Covid-19 testing lab in private university showed IMU’s patriotism in answering national service to combat Covid-19 outbreak in Malaysia. As Pro Vice Chancellor for Research, Prof. Datuk Lokman Hakim Sulaiman has been an inspiring leader in directing the success of IRDI in performing the national service in Covid-19 testing. He shared his expertise and opinions on Covid-19 in the Public Service Announcement. In addition, Dr Kenny Voon, as team leader and virologist, also shared his experiences in performing Covid-19 lab testing daily during MCO in his interview in Bigger Picture, BFM.

Contributions from the Community
On top of that, IRDI has also received 50 sets of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the Esplanade Residents Association (ERA) for use in Covid-19 community screening and research. The community project was led by youths of Taman Esplanade, a residential community in appreciation of the frontliners’ hard work in combating Covid-19. IRDI would like to express its utmost gratefulness to ERA for the donation which will be fully utilised for the ongoing Covid-19 research. IRDI also received a donation of Viral Extraction Kits from the Lion’s Club KL City and would also like to express its utmost gratitude for this donation as the kits had really helped us when we were facing shortage of reagents and resources.

Related articles: A novel strategy for community screening of SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19): Sample pooling method IMU as One of the Covid-19 Diagnostic Labs for the Ministry of Health Public Service Announcement on COVID-19 Merdeka 2020: My Healthcare Heroes at Home IRDI Received Viral RNA Extraction Kits from Lions Club KL City to Fight COVID-19

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