Nencki Institute – rapid reaction unit for combating the COVID-19 epidemic

On Friday 24 April 2020, we began the implementation of the SONAR project: Fast High Throughput Identification Strategy for SARS-CoV-2. This project aims to develop a new strategy of so-called group testing (several dozen tests at once) in SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics, which will increase the efficiency of COVID-19 diagnostics, using the currently available diagnostic facilities in Poland.

Within the SONAR project, we have combined the latest approaches in SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics: group testing, mathematical modelling, and fast and extremely sensitive tests for detecting virus particles in samples taken from patients. The final result of the project will be the creation of a diagnostic protocol (according to the developed algorithm), and software that will allow for quick implementation of group testing within laboratories conducting SARS-CoV-2 diagnostics in Poland. This method will make it possible to determine, by performing several, instead of several hundred determinations, whether there is a person infected with the virus within a given group.

Head of the project - Prof. Agnieszka Dobrzyń, Director of the Nencki Institute, Head of the Cell Signaling and Metabolic Disorders Laboratory, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences

Coordinator for the assessment of test sensitivity, and the development of protocol for the implementation of group testing in practice - Dr Aleksandra Pękowska, Assistant Professor, Head of Chromatin and Epigenomics Biology Laboratory, Centre of Scientific Excellence DIOSCURI, Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology, Polish Academy of Sciences

Coordinator for optimization of the algorithm for group testing procedure, and development of software for implementation of the method in practice - Dr Szymon Toruńczyk, Assistant Professor at the Institute of Computer Science, Faculty of Mathematics, Computer Science and Mechanics, University of Warsaw.

The example of countries where the number of new COVID-19 cases has reached plateau, indicates that mass diagnostics is most probably the best tactic in the fight to control the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus pandemic. Large-scale diagnostics will help to meet the diagnostic requirements at this moment, as group testing can be used to quickly examine residents and staff of a particular nursing home, or patients and staff of a particular hospital unit.

This strategy will also become extremely useful within the near future, when a very high throughput of virus detection (100,000 tests per day) will be necessary to constantly control the level of SARS-CoV-2 infections. This is crucial for providing an effective fight against the epidemic in Poland.

The strategy developed within the framework of the SONAR project, will also facilitate the return of society norms to professional activity, through:

1. enabling group testing of employees e.g. in production plants, educational institutions, offices, etc;

2. continuous monitoring of the presence of SARS-CoV-2 virus in employees of medical facilities working within hospital wards and outpatient clinics;

3. identifying asymptomatic carriers of SARS-CoV-2 within the population.

The project is co-financed by the Ministry of Science and Higher Education.

Date of publication
27 April 2020