Design and Implementation of An Adaptive Pooling Workflow for SARS-CoV-2 Testing in an NHS Diagnostic Laboratory
18 Pages Posted: 1 Apr 2021 Last revised: 14 Apr 2021
Date Written: March 6, 2021
Background: Diagnostic laboratories are currently required to provide routine testing of asymptomatic staff and patients as a part of their clinical screening for SARS-CoV-2 infection. However, these cohorts display very different disease prevalence from symptomatic individuals and testing capacity for asymptomatic screening is often limited. Group testing is frequently proposed as a possible solution to address this; however, proposals neglect the technical and operational feasibility of implementation in a front-line diagnostic laboratory.
Methods: Between October and December 2020, as a 7-week proof of concept, we took into account scientific, technical and operational feasibility to design and implement an adaptive pooling strategy in an NHS diagnostic laboratory in London (UK). We assessed the impact of pooling on analytical sensitivity and modelled the impact of prevalence on pooling strategy. We then considered the operational constraints to model the potential gains in capacity and the requirements for additional staff and infrastructure. Finally, we developed a LIMS-agnostic laboratory automation workflow and software solution and tested the technical feasibility of our adaptive pooling workflow.
Findings: First, we determined the analytical sensitivity of the implemented SARS-CoV-2 assay to be 250 copies/mL. We then determined that, in a setting with limited analyser capacity, the testing capacity could be increased by two-fold with pooling, however, in a setting with limited reagents, this could rise to a five-fold increase. These capacity increases could be realized with modest additional resource and staffing requirements whilst utilizing up to 76% fewer plastic consumables and 90% fewer reagents. Finally, we successfully implemented a plate-based pooling workflow and tested 920 patient samples using the reagents that would usually be required to process just 222 samples.
Interpretation: Adaptive pooled testing is a scientifically, technically and operationally feasible solution to increase testing capacity in frontline NHS diagnostic laboratories.
Funding: NHS England
Note: Funding Statement: This work was supported by funding from NHS England.
Declaration of Interests: ZH and LAP are employed by Riffyn, Inc. MAC and PSF are consultants for Analytik Jena. All the other authors declare no competing interests.
Keywords: diagnostics, SARS-CoV-2, pooling
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