Lab in a suitcase: mobile genetic sequencing for outbreak response

The pros of shrinking a lab
are that we’re able to go to places that we couldn’t previously
go with the sequencing. So by having a small laboratory,
we’re able to deploy much faster, in a much more cost-effective manner,
to more places around the world. What we’re looking at here is
the [genetic] sequencing workspace. The main benefits to sequencing in the field:
firstly, it’s speed. You’re able to take the sample to sequence
within a very short period of time, without having to take the sample out of the
country at any stage. What that means is the country keeps ownership
of their samples, you’ve got the capacity to train the local
staff in how to do the sequencing. and it allows you to report
the results much faster than if you had to send the samples
out of the country. One of the problems we have in the field is
making sure the we can power everything and we want to be able to work in very remote
locations, when it’s required. So to get around that, all of the units, everything
we’ve put into the sequencing kit, is designed to run off 12-volt maximum, so that we’re able to power it either off
lithium-ion batteries or off solar power. As you can see, we carry with us
a 2′ x 1′ Goal Zero solar panel, along with this power pack called the Yeti-150, which is sufficient to power the entire unit
for 12 hours, even in the absence of sun. We use sequencing because it allows us
to track the virus or the pathogen from one person to another. So by looking at the genetic level,
we can say whether the differences in one virus
have been transmitted to another person. So what we’d normally do, is the first thing
is we’d come into this chamber and we would set-up the sequencing reactions. Once you’ve done this,
you take the sample out of here and come around to one of
the PCR machines [thermal cycler]. We’ve got the miniPCR
which is the one we use when we want to make libraries and amplicons. If we need to quantify the DNA first,
then we’ll use our qPCR machine, which is called a MyGo, which can
do 16 samples at a time. This is the MinION sequencing unit
from Nanopore. As you can see, it’s very small,
it’s very portable and it provides us with a greater
flexibility in the field. It’s small, it’s light,
it fits in our bag and it’s quite accessible for people to use. Mobile sequencing needs to be portable. Two people need to be able to
carry the sequencing facility to anywhere in the field. It needs to be robust. It needs to be able to handle harsh
environments such as high humidity, high temperatures, pests and
similar things in the field. It needs to be rapid. We need to be able to go from set-up to
sequence within hours not days. It needs to be fieldable. It needs to be able to cope with the absence of air conditioning,
cold chain, power or internet. It needs to be simple and trainable. We need to be able to train local staff in how to do the sequencing themselves
to provide capacity for future outbreaks. It needs to be accurate and interpretable. We need to be sure that
the sequences we’re getting are correct and that it’s easily
reportable to people within the field. Finally, it needs to be cheap. We need to be able to sustainably fund this
for future outbreaks. The initial cost for setting up the laboratory
is around $15,000. And the cost per sample aims to be
between $5-10 per sample. With the laboratory we’ve developed,
we aim to sequence 100 samples without the need to restock
from outside the country. The laboratory is designed to be able to operate
for 4-6 weeks in the field, in the absence of cold chain or power. Everything in the kit is
designed to be accessible and we’ve listed everything that goes in to
it on the website: Next for the project, we want to continue
trying to make things cheaper, smaller and lighter so that we can go to more
locations around the world.

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