At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, the requesting professors and scientists proposed to the Spanish Ministry of Health the use of equipment, specialized personnel and scientific facilities that include biosafety laboratories to perform diagnostic tests for SARS-CoV-2 in clinical samples with instruments and personnel from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM). Currently, we continue working in the Network and doing diagnostic tests to help our Society.
What It Does
- The rapid organization of personnel, equipment, facilities and biosafety protocols allowed the creation and implementation of a diagnostic network, including R+D+i, to address this pandemic.
- Perform viral RNA extraction and identification by quantitative PCR with validated samples (500 per day).
- Contact with the Carlos III Health Institute (ISCIII), our National Reference Center, facilitated the comparison of methodology, the supply of kits and the performance of a double-blind study with samples previously analyzed by this Institute.
How to build it
At the same time, the recruitment of 6000 highly qualified volunteers among doctoral students and professors with experience in the necessary technology of the Universidad Complutense de Madrid (UCM) and the Centro de Investigaciones Energéticas, Medioambientales y Tecnológicas (CIEMAT), close to the UCM campus, was designed and started. This initiative, financed so far by the UCM and several foundations, allows the analysis of 500 clinical samples per day. By means of this study, the results obtained could be verified and the qualification of the Lab UCM COVID-19 as "collaborating laboratory" of the ISCIII was acquired.
Challenges I ran into
These days we tried to improve all the points of the project. Specially, we realized that many Universities in the EU and abroad feel the need of helping in their countries, and that our early experience in a region where this disease is hitting Society specially hard, could be a very valuable help. Thus, we understand now that the present project does not only aim at the rapid enhancement of this health service with standard systems, but also:
- To put all the University resources, students-teachers-researchers, at the disposal of the Society, serving where and when needed.
- Other Universities in the country and outside Spain have already contacted us.
- The development of own protocols with national reagents that allow to solve the current serious problem of supply of diagnostic kits.
- The fine-tuning of high capacity RT-qPCR protocols.
- The development of new diagnostic approaches based on "Loop-mediated isothermal amplification" (LAMP) technology.
- Increase the Network with another centers with diagnostic capacity (Universities or Laboratories).
Accomplishments that I'm proud of
Having obtained the union of 6,000 qualified volunteers, the daily analysis of 500 clinical samples and the adaptation of laboratories to be able to face fast the challenge of helping society fight against COVID-19.
The laboratories involved in diagnostics and research belong to different Disciplines: Veterinary Medicine, Biology, Medicine, Optics, Pharmacy, Psychology, Chemistry....giving rise to a real TRANSDISCIPLINARY COVID NETWORK.
We believe that this can be a good example of the implementation of an emergency laboratory and the ability for immediate response in the shortest time, serving as a model for collaboration between Academy and the Public Health System, both in Spain and in other parts of the world.
All this has an important impact on the diagnosis of SARS-CoV-2 infections in groups that are at risk, or in contact, or healthcare workers, and also to help the triage of groups in communities, e.g. residences for the elderly, some of which are being supported by the Lab UCM COVID-19 in the Autonomous Community of Madrid (CAM).
What's next for LabUCMCOVID-19
Universities from around Spain and Europe have contacted us to follow our idea. We are building a host-adapted model system, which can be used for any other University in the EU or the world to adapt their resources for diagnostics and research on COVID-19. This would include sharing protocols on a platform or giving remote assistance to the different centers. This is of special relevance. Issues like quality, biosafety, training, ethical issues, patient data etc., are new for many University laboratories and we know that, with our experience, we can help many other Universities to implemented work on SARS-CoV-2 as soon as ever possible. After this crisis, this Network will still work on this and other potential emerging infectious diseases. As these new diseases can rise and spread in any country world-wide, a strong International experienced Transdisciplinary University Network is crucial to respond fast and effectively wherever new diseases emerge.
In Madrid, mortality in the elderly is especially high, and our projects specifically aims at helping the weakest, those who have helped our parents and grandparents to rebuild our country after our Spanish Civil war, lived most of their lives under the dictatorship of General Franco, wrote our Constitution in 1978, and saw us finally entering the EU in 1982.
We will continue working, looking for volunteers, investigating and helping others with our experience.
What we need
- Increase and improve the Network with other Universities and research Centers.
- European Union support and participation.
- Use all the capacity of Universities to perform diagnostic tests, and develop further improvements to tackle COVID-19.
We change the project from the Challenge: Health / Others to Remote Working & Education / University specific challenges.