Experts worldwide agree: to keep the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus at bay, we must test for infections as extensively as possible. In the words of Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO): "We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test. Test every suspected case."
As a recent study published in the journal "Science" (DOI: 10.1126/science.abb3221) shows, over 80 percent of all infections with SARS-CoV-2 remain undetected. And yet these undetected cases are the source of infection for around 79 percent of all documented illnesses, the study continues. This is not only an explanation for the rapid worldwide spread of the virus, but also shows how important extensive testing is, as this will identify symptom-free carriers of the virus.
To increase the nationwide test capacity, a total of 20 Viennese research institutes from the university and non-university sector, including the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OeAW), have banded together to form the "Vienna COVID-19 Diagnostics Initiative" (VCDI). They provide machines, scientifically qualified personnel and know-how for additional virus tests in the laboratory.
Know-how and research results are freely available
With this, an automated diagnostics pipeline has been created at the Vienna BioCenter in Vienna's third district. As there are worldwide supply bottlenecks for the reagents required for the tests, the scientists have also developed a number of such reagents themselves. That way, they are largely independent of external suppliers. The VCDI makes all know-how for the construction of test pipelines and their research results freely available to support other research institutions in building up their own COVID-19 test capacities.
"Many labs were shut down, the scientists sent home. But more and more came back, building a diagnostics pipeline from nothing", says Alwin Köhler, coordinator of the VCDI, Scientific Director of the Max Perutz Labs and member of the Young Academy of the OeAW. The initiative, in which the OeAW institutes CeMM (Research Center for Molecular Medicine), GMI (Gregor Mendel Institute of Molecular Plant Biology) and IMBA (Institute of Molecular Biotechnology) are involved, is funded by the Vienna Science and Technology Fund (WWTF).