Making COVID19 Test Kits Using Algae
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Making COVID19 Test Kits Using Algae

In a new process to overcome the shortfalls of existing processes along with saving money in the making of COVID-19 test kits, researchers at Western and Suncor are working together to use algae as a way to produce serological COVID-19 test kits.

To identify COVID-19 antibodies in someone previously infected with the disease, Sam Slattery and Daniel Giguere, Ph.D. candidates at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry are developing algae as a production factory to make the necessary proteins.

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Giguere said of the Mitacs-backed project, “We are using microalgae as it not only shows promise for producing the needed protein but also that to mimic how the protein is made in humans, it can be produced with the correct modifications.”

Slattery added, “To produce the proteins rapidly and validate their effectiveness as a testing reagent, we are leveraging our in-house expertise and technology.”

Making significant quantities of viral proteins on a cost-effective basis is one of the limiting factors in developing large-scale serological testing.

Proteins used in current tests are difficult to scale and are expensive as they are made in reagents such as insect or mammalian cells. Algae can easily be engineered to produce viral proteins and they are cheap to grow.

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Along with fellow Biochemistry researchers Bogumil Karas and Greg Gloor, Dave Edgell, who serves as co-principal investigator explained, “The synthetic biology group at Western has been developing genetic tools for algae that are proving their utility,”

Suncor senior staff engineer based in Sarnia, Martin Flatley said that the test kits are expected on the market in a couple of months as the funding has enabled the team to significantly speed up the production.

Flatley said, “We already had access to the Western bio-safety lab, the required expertise, and the equipment. We questioned how can we fight COVID-19 with what we developed. We are doing it’s for the benefit of all Canadians and it is a great feeling.”

Mitacs is in partnerships with Canadian academia, government, private industry, and is a nonprofit national research organization that and operates training programs and research in fields related to social and industrial innovation.

To expedite the approval process and leverage funding for COVID-19-related research projects, the Western-Suncor funding is part of an announcement that Mitacs is partnering with the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

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Making COVID19 test kits Using Algae