Test capacity: Pool method enables mass tests against coronavirus

A test procedure against the new coronavirus developed by homologists from Homburg allows more people to be tested in less time. With the so-called pool method, several patient samples are examined simultaneously in the same test tube. The samples are then analyzed individually only if the result is positive. This saves test material and laboratory capacity, as the Saarland University announced.

The method helps to meet the worldwide high demand for coronavirus tests for mass screening. These mass tests examined people who did not yet show any symptoms of the disease, but who may already be infected and are therefore highly contagious. The corona virus pandemic can thus be contained more quickly. Sigrun Smola, professor of medicine at Saarland University and director of the Institute of Virology at the University Hospital, who developed the test, said there was great interest from home and abroad.

Her team of researchers had already been using the new procedure at the Saarland University Hospital to examine patients and medical personnel since mid-March. In the meantime, the procedure is also being used in cooperation with the Saarland Ministry of Health and surrounding research facilities for people in Saarland nursing homes and retirement homes.

The virologists developed their pool test procedure at the beginning of the corona crisis and have now published their results in the specialist journal “The Lancet Infectious Diseases”. According to the report, the researchers have transferred a method that has long been used reliably in blood donations to coronavirus diagnostics.

To do this, they tested the smears of symptom-free people in a bundle. “Our molecular biological method using the RT-PCR method was so sensitive that we were able to combine samples of up to 30 people in one test tube to get a positive result with a single test, even if only a single sample actually contained viruses,” explained Smola. “In order to assign the correct person to the corona infection, only this positive sample pool had to be examined again in more detail using the usual molecular biological methods.”


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