As we turned a corner into 2020, humanity was hit with a mammoth mountain to climb over and on to ‘greener pastures’. The mountain, as most of us would like to believe, was COVID-19.
But as the climb began, it became terribly apparent that COVID-19 was merely a representation of the real test for humanity – unity, compassion and communal responsibility. Optimists and cynics alike, were coerced into envisaging the importance of each person being held accountable for the other. Masks flew out, gloves were donned, and communities replaced beer with hand sanitizer (and given recent claims by some world leaders, dare I say “disinfectants”).
And yet, despite all these proactive measures (albeit, gradual), no amount of climbing, made the mountain any smaller. It became apparent that there had to be another road on to the other side.
‘Testing’ became the talk of the town. The Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG) at the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), along with CNAG-CRG, IRB and IBEC, too, joined the Orfeu Programme, aiding the Catalan government in its bid to perform community-wide tests.
But you are never prepared for what this means! “Companies run out of reagents”, “Customs hold important machinery for testing”, “Error 404: Code not found”, “Robot is moody: performs excellently on Sunday, and poorly on Monday” – these could all be headlines for the rather extravagant organizational cascade that ensued in gearing the institute towards testing.
At first, it was simply designing workflows and putting robotic arms into action to set up a high throughput system. A team of volunteers from various research groups, core facilities and an administrative team spent days streamlining a protocol that included collecting samples, disinfecting them, performing RNA extraction and finally real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR).
“We are testing 500 samples every 3h. It is an amazing experience being part of this initiative, and one in which I am confident that we as a community will come out stronger”
Having started with about 100 samples every 2 hours, the team at CRG-PRBB are currently processing close to 500 samples every 3 hour, with the aim of tripling that in the coming days. This has been one of the most dynamic processes I have been part of. As volunteers cover shifts of close to 5 hours every alternate day, it is almost guaranteed that by your next shift, the protocol has evolved by an unrecognizable margin, and for the better! It is an amazing experience, and one in which I am confident that we as a community will come out stronger.
The effort has been tremendous and the passion to help the community has been high. It has been an absolute pleasure working among all these volunteers, some of whom have worked tirelessly through the nights and days to help make this happen. This article is merely the 8 o’clock clapping put into black and white. A very big thank you to everyone!