The formal collaboration between the virology department of Iceland’s National University Hospital and deCODE Genetics began on Monday, allowing specialists to analyse larger batches of COVID-19 tests. RÚV reports that as many as 5,000 samples can be analysed a day in deCode’s facilities; specialists are working from 7am to 11pm to efficiently meet the demand.
Current data shows that during the first six weeks of COVID-19 testing at the border, most of the detected infections were old. In recent weeks, however, most of the infections have been active. Since July 22, there have been 53 active infections detected via border screenings. Seventeen people have been found to have antibodies to the COVID-19 virus.
A private biopharmaceutical company and genetics research laboratory, deCODE Genetics initially oversaw border screenings in Iceland but withdrew from the process in mid-July. Later that month, following a new cluster of community transmissions in Iceland, deCODE CEO Kári Stefánsson decided to restart the initiative in order to determine whether the novel coronavirus was spreading in Iceland anew.
The company’s current collaboration with the hospital’s virology department was arranged because its facilities are better equipped to process and analyse large quantities of COVID-19 samples. All COVID-19 tests taken at the border and at health clinics within the capital area are now tested at deCODE. Samples taken at health clinics and hospitals elsewhere in the country are analyzed at the hospital’s virology department.
During peak arrival windows, specialists working in the deCODE labs receive large batches of swab samples from Kaflavík airport every hour.
A complex process with quick results
Sample analysis at deCODE is conducted in two laboratories. In the first lab, samples are recorded within a specially designed computer system. A portion of each sample is placed in a tray—94 samples total. A compound is added to each sample that makes it possible for researchers to isolate the RNA in each sample.
The trays are then placed in one of four machines that carry out the 40-minute isolation process.
Next, the isolated RNA samples are transferred to the second laboratory, where a substrate is added. The samples are then transferred to a robot that mixes them for ten minutes. The robot can mix up to 380 samples at once.
Once the mixing is complete, the samples are placed into another device which conducts a PCR test, which amplifies their genetic material. This process takes 80 minutes.
At this point, it’s possible to see which samples have tested positive for COVID-19.