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Image of Roche 6800 Machines in SPH lab
Roche 6800 machines in SPH lab.
Research + Innovation

Virology lab first in Canada to have new high throughput COVID-19 testing capability


On March 21, 2020, the virology laboratory at St. Paul’s Hospital started using a new high throughput, fully automated COVID-19 testing method – a first in Canada.

“Testing is the key to COVID-19 diagnostics (for patient care) and surveillance (for public health),” says Dr. Marc Romney. “And high-volume testing capacity is critical in our fight to contain and control the spread of COVID-19. This new testing platform should allow us to increase significantly our testing capacity, possibly increasing testing capacity four-to five-fold (if there are no supply issues with respect to kits).”

Recently, Dr. Romney and St. Paul’s Hospital received approval from Health Canada to start testing for COVID-19 using the Roche cobas® 6800 system. This system is traditionally used for HIV, hepatitis B and CMV viral load testing. Dr. Romney and his team at St. Paul’s have been working around the clock with Roche Canada on getting this new automated testing system up and running as quickly as possible.

“The Roche cobas® 6800 instrument – of which St. Paul’s Hospital has two in operation – allows for fully automated, high throughput testing of patient samples (nasopharyngeal swabs in the case of COVID-19), and can even conduct testing and deliver results when samples are loaded overnight. It is based on polymerase chain reaction technology (PCR), and incorporates viral nucleic acid extraction, purification, amplification, and detection in a single instrument,” says Dr. Romney.

Kits for use on the Roche 6800 instruments are in very short supply. If both Roche 6800 machines were able to run at full capacity, theoretically over 2,000 COVID-19 samples could be performed over a 24-hour period. More realistically, the laboratory hopes to increase capacity by 600 to 1,000 tests per day. This additional testing capability is on top of the mid-volume testing system currently in place at the St. Paul’s virology laboratory.

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