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Safety for patients and staff: COVID-19 testing at LBI Trauma

(14.07.2020)

Hundreds of employees ensure that the AUVA trauma centers continue to operate even in times of the pandemic. Their work puts them at increased risk of infection, and it is therefore of utmost importance to maintain a high level of safety regarding COVID-19.

This is where the LBI trauma comes into play. During lockdown, the scientists were sent to work from home, leaving the laboratories empty. Head of the institute Johannes Grillari, and chemist Michaela Stainer, both experts in the field of molecular biology, soon recognized the chance to bring the expertise as well as the equipment to good use and assist the AUVA in the fight against COVID-19. Protocols were established and the highly sought after reagents were obtained. Numerous scientists joined the initiative and volunteered to work in the test laboratory. The University of Applied Sciences Technikum Wien and BOKU Vienna provided advice and assistance.

Thanks to the quick action, testing of employees and patients could be started at the beginning of April. By means of PCR (polymerase chain reaction, a method for the duplication of genetic material), viral genetic material is detected in the throat swab.

The tests need to be fast and reliable. After extensive evaluation and adaption of existing protocols, the duration of the test - from RNA isolation to completed PCR – could be reduced to just over 2 hours. Moreover, the testing protocol was improved in terms of its reliability. Internal controls were established to ensure that enough RNA is transcribed. This way, false negative results can be avoided.

As by now research at the institute was resumed, four scientists from the previous team have been assigned to testing, with additional help from their colleagues whenever possible. A big thank you to all volunteer testers and helpers who made it possible to establish and maintain the tests so quickly.