UP Los Baños grad leads development of COVID-19 test in Switzerland


Posted at Jul 08 2020 11:31 AM

Catharine Aquino-Fournier, a graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños, leads the development of COVID-19 testing technology in Switzerland. University of the Philippines Los Baños

MANILA - A graduate of the University of the Philippines Los Baños is leading the development of COVID-19 testing technology in Switzerland, the state university said Tuesday.

Catharine Aquino-Fournier, who graduated with a degree in Biology in 1996 and a master's degree in Genetics in 2003, heads the HiDRA-seq application of the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.

The HiDRA-seq method is similar with the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT–PCR) except it skips the extraction of genetic material which decreases processing time, Aquino-Fournier told campus-based internet radio program Radyo DZLB.

“In the technology we developed, we are trying to skip the part of extracting the genetic material and get it straight from saliva, or gargles, or directly from the swab,” she said.

“The difference is that [while] in rRT-PCR, the output is a fluorescent intensity, in our test, the output is COVID-specific sequences. Since we have the sequences, we can determine the strain of the virus depending on the mutations that we find."

The application, like the rRT-PCR, is not 100 percent accurate, and has a 10 percent chance of yielding false results, according to Aquino-Fournier as she stressed it was not meant to replace PCR tests.

The HiDRA-seq allows the processing of up to 100,000 samples per run for about $2 or P100 per sample.

“Since there is a shortage of materials used for rRT–PCR, we tried to come up with a technique to not affect their supply,” Aquino-Fournier said.

As of late June, the Philippines can run over 50,000 tests for the novel coronavirus.

The country has so far reported 47,873 cases of COVID-19, with 1,309 deaths and 12,386 recoveries.