A team of scientists in Cork has developed a key component of COVID-19 tests that will enable Irish laboratories to increase testing for the virus. 

Dr. Brigid Lucey from the Cork Institute of Technology, who led the research team, said that Irish laboratories were short of something called lysis buffer, which is used in COVID-19 tests. 

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Dr. Lucey said: “The lysis buffer is a critical reagent in testing for COVID-19 – you need it to get the virus out of the respiratory secretion samples and then to crack open the virus to go on and test the sample.”

However, due to demand around the world, Irish laboratories are currently short of this vital component, which has delayed testing. At present, people who have been tested for the virus have to wait between seven and ten days for their results in Ireland. 

Dr, Lucey teamed up with Dr. Martina Scallan and Dr. John McSharry - virologists from University College Cork - develop a formulation for the lysis buffer. 

The scientists then teamed up with professors at Teagasc, a semi-state body responsible for research in the Irish-agrifood industry. 

The research team worked remotely over the weekend to develop the formulations.

They came up with four different formulations and sent samples to microbiologists Catherine Dempsey and Isabelle O'Callaghan at Cork University Hospital to test. 

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“Catherine and Isabelle tested our four formulations to see which gave the highest quality extraction and they selected one and Martina and John then made up more of that formulation of buffer that gave the best result.

“We then enlisted the help of Dr. Conor Horgan and Dr. Humphrey Moynihan of [Cork-based pharmaceutical company] Eli Lilly who were able to help by making up 4.5l of the formulation which they were able to deliver to the labs at CUH.”

Dr. Lucey said that the 4.5l of formulation would be sufficient for around 10,000 COVID-19 tests. 

More importantly, the formulation guarantees Ireland a supply of buffer, according to Dr. Lucey. 

“Prior to this, Ireland just imported lysis buffer which it was always able to get but with the global nature of this pandemic, suddenly demand has increased and you have countries like the United States looking for large quantities.

“Ireland is now trying to source the same testing materials as the rest of the world and we need to be as self-sufficient as we can,” she said. 

She said that the HSE was able to get hold of a significant supply of the rarest component that goes into lysis buffer, so Ireland should be able to maintain an adequate supply of the crucial testing component.

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