The gold standard for COVID-19 testing, called RT-PCR, requires expensive equipment and trained personnel. Besides, only a limited number of centralised laboratories and large hospitals can conduct these tests. The current testing infrastructure is overwhelmed, and people often have to wait for more than a day to get their test results. To ramp up testing and reduce turnaround time, the country’s first ICMR-approved mobile COVID-19 diagnostic lab has been developed by an IISc team led by Sai Siva Gorthi at the Department of Instrumentation and Applied Physics. It has been developed in collaboration with Deepak Saini at the Department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics, and Shanmukha Innovations, an IISc-incubated start up, and with support from the SBI Foundation, Toyota Kirloskar Motor and Tata Motors.
The mobile labs consist of a fleet of four vehicles – a container truck and three vans – that can travel to, and operate in remote areas. Of the three vans, one is a sample collection lab, the second is a sample processing lab, and the third is the actual RT-PCR testing lab. The container acts as a nodal hub and stays parked at a central location. It has facilities for storage of consumables and Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and for bio-waste disposal. Each fleet, named as an MITR (Mobile Infection Testing and Reporting) lab, can handle up to 6,000 samples per month. This fleet is now ready to be deployed, and will soon be handed over to the Karnataka government. This innovation can increase the reach of public healthcare services significantly, and in the future, be used to test for other infectious diseases as well.