ULiège researchers fully mobilized against Covid-19

In Coronavirus Institution Research
Researchers Wouter Coppieters, Dimitri Pirottin and Laurent Gillet at the GIGA/FARAH of the University of Liège are working tirelessly on the development of an automated test method.

The research teams of the University of Liège are fully committed to the fighting against the coronavirus epidemic. The scientific community of the GIGA, rich in highly complementary interdisciplinary skills to understand the virus, has reorganized itself and regrouped into thematic groups, in particular to develop new methods to significantly increase testing capacity.


n direct link with the medical teams of the CHU of Liège and in collaboration with FARAH teams, several working groups have been set up on different themes:

  1. Increasing the testing capacity for the virus on the basis of RT-PCR testing;
  2. Developing a new test to increase the capacity and speed of testing for the virus;
  3. Sequencing of the viral genome;
  4. Development and improvement of serological tests;
  5. Collection of samples from Covid-19 patients hospitalized at the CHU of Liège ;
  6. Collection of samples from medical staff "in action";
  7. Collection of samples from "control" patients

First of all, the objectives are to significantly increase our testing capacity, both for viruses and antibodies, by using protocols that are as efficient as possible and above all not dependent on external sources of consumables whose supply is threatened. One then has to initiate research to better understand why some people develop life-threatening symptoms while others do not, and finally to initiate research to assess actual rates of infection and seroconversion in the general population and their correlation with symptoms. These data appear to be essential to better manage the epidemic.

The initial results for the development of a method of testing on a larger scale are very encouraging. This method can be automated, is not heavily dependent on reagents that are currently no longer widely available, and requires the simultaneous presence of only four people. This automatable test already shows 90% agreement with the tests provided by the reference laboratories.

On this basis, the University of Liège will take the necessary steps to become an approved laboratory for the detection of SARS-CoV-2, the virus responsible for Covid-19 disease. The university laboratory would then be attached to the reference laboratory of the CHU of Liège.

"The CHU of Liege currently has a capacity of 100 tests per day, which is very insufficient, explains Fabrice Bureau, Vice-Rector for Research at ULiège. The robot that the hospital has just acquired will make it possible to carry out 1000 more tests per day. And with the new method developed by ULiège researchers, we hope to quickly be able to perform 2000 more tests daily, with the advantage of being less dependent on the usual channels for being provided with reagents. »

"In order to further automate these tests, we will also need some equipment that is missing or likely to be missing, such as magnetic microbeads or swabs for taking samples from the tested persons. Calls have already been made among researchers in other faculties to help us find solutions quickly. Magnetic microbeads have already been produced in quick response by the university's chemists (Faculty of Sciences). »

The next steps are now to confirm, automate and validate this new method, "within the next two weeks," Fabrice Bureau hopes.

Mobilization is general at ULiège to better understand the disease, to amplify testing capacities and to support the medical teams on the front line in hospitals.

Support for screening in DR of Congo

Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech and TERRA are participating with UCLouvain in a project to support the diagnosis of Covid-19 in DR of Congo.

Laboratory solidarity

A surge of solidarity was quickly manifest in the laboratories : medical teams are provided with equipment useful for monitoring and treating patients. More than 16,000 surgical masks have been supplied by the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, and thousands more, as well as gloves, aprons, disinfectants... were transported to the Liège University Hospital from the ULiège laboratories on all the campuses (TERRA at Gembloux Agro-Bio Tech, Chemical Engineering,...). Stocks of reagents necessary for the detection of Covid-19 have also been supplied to the reference laboratory of the CHU of Liège.


Fabrice BUREAU | Vice-Rector for Research | Université de Liège


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