As part of its effort to fight the COVID pandemic, the IIT Alumni Council on Thursday announced the setting up of a mega lab in the metropolis with a capacity of 10 million tests per month by July. The council also said it will soon start identifying partners for the same through a global competition.
Having launched the first 'COVID Test Bus' in the city earlier in the month, the council also said trials have already begun on two of the supercomputer clusters in the megapolis, which alone has seen more than 35,000 cases out of the close to 1.58 lakh in the country and nearly 2,000 of the over 4,700 deaths in the country so far.
While vaccine is still more than a year away in the best case scenario, the testing capacity has emerged as the biggest challenge. So the focus of the lab is to ensure timely testing, therefore their focus is on detecting, preventing and treating the disease with timely as well as affordable testing.
It can be noted that the council has also set up COVID-19 Taskforce under the chairmanship of K Vijay Raghavan, an IIT Kanpur alumnus and the principal scientific officer to the Centre, with 20 IIT directors as members, along with many other distinguished alumni of the institutes.
"The IIT Alumni Council has decided to set up the largest genetic testing laboratory for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases after consulting global experts in the areas of virology, RT-PCR machine manufactures, test kits, pooling algorithms, AI, machine learning, robotics and microfluidics.
Frequently Asked Questions
A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.
There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.
Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.
“A dedicated team has already started work on designing the MegaLab Mumbai with a capacity of 10 million RT-PCR tests per month," said Ravi Sharma, president of the IIT Alumni Council.
"The MegaLab will be based on the end-to-end Kodoy indigenous technology stack and will have adequate capacity for testing the entire population of Mumbai for infectious diseases, once a month," he added.
The COVID-19 Taskforce, announced on March 25 itself — the day the first phase of the now-nine-weeks long national lockdown was announced, has various working groups involving over 1,000 dedicated alumni spread all over the world to finding/creating appropriate solutions to fight the pandemic.
Apart from these, the council also set up digital Xray systems at the Poddar Hospital that uses AI to detect coronavirus for the first time in the country on April 23; on May 1, it also launched the country's first COVID Test Bus in the city and from May 10, they started the work on indigenising the test kits.
The MegaLab Mumbai is the latest initiative of the IIT Alumni Council with an aim to design and establish the largest genetic testing laboratory for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases like tuberculosis with an end-to-end capacity to carry out over 10 million tests a month. It will comprise three independent lines -– 1 million tests per month, 3 million and 6 million tests per month.
The MegaLab will be based on the end-to-end Kodoy indigenous technology stack, and for implementation, the Kodoy stack is divided in 64 steps from (collection of) virus in the throat to the virus being ultimately zapped/disinfected by UV at the completion of testing in a RT-PCR.
The testing infrastructure will comprise the vehicle mounted automated sample collection stations in cars or cabs and COVID test buses, while the MegaLab will comprise robotic contactless sample transport from the vehicles to the testing line with robotic pooling followed by high speed RNA extraction using magnetic bead technology.
The IIT Alumni Council is the largest global body of alumni, students and faculty across all the 23 IITs with over 100 city chapters.Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.