China launches mobile COVID-19 testing lab

BEIJING, Oct. 23 (Xinhua) -- Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus epidemic, waiting in long queues for a COVID-19 test has been a major hurdle in getting tested. However, the advent of a mobile laboratory may help alleviate the problem.

A team of researchers from Tsinghua University and the university-affiliated Beijing CapitalBio Technology Co., Ltd has developed a mobile testing van, called COVID-19 Mobile Laboratory. The lab can analyze nucleic acid samples on the spot immediately, allowing people to obtain results within 45 minutes, much faster than before.

Lead researcher Cheng Jing, also a professor at Tsinghua, said the lab is equipped with throat swap sampling robots, virus inactivators and automatic microfluidic chip analyzers. These facilities can accelerate the testing speed three times and lower the risk of virus infection compared with conventional sampling methods.

Each lab has a 5G communication system for quick reporting of test results.

"It realizes the point-of-care rapid testing and is particularly useful for frontier ports, communities and villages," said Cheng, adding that testing capacity remains important in curbing risks of sporadic cases and local outbreaks.

The mobile lab can provide on-site tests for 500 to 2,000 people daily and requires only two staff members and a driver for its operation.

"One person is responsible for operating the sampling robots, while the other is tasked with adding inactivated samples into detection chips and reading the test results on the computer," said Pan Liangbin, a staffer at the CapitalBio Technology, who was part of the lab program. He added that his employees took just a 2-hour training to master the operation.

The lab is now priced at 2 million yuan (about 299,200 U.S. dollars) each and the current production capacity is about 20 per month. According to Pan, the cost will be reduced with rising production capacity in the future.

The team has delivered its first mobile lab to a hospital in South China's Zhuhai earlier this week. It has received orders from cities such as Qingdao and Shenyang.

Some tools, such as the sampling robot and detection chip, have been patented and the China-made mobile COVID-19 testing lab is being marketed globally, Pan said.

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