Catharine Aquino-Fournier, an alumna of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), leads the development of a COVID-19 mass testing technology in Switzerland.
Aquino-Fournier is the group leader of HiDRA-seq at the Functional Genomic Center Zurich (FGCZ), a core facility of the University of Zurich and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology.
What is HiDRA-seq
HiDRA-seq is an application that detects the novel coronavirus using state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology called the Next Generation Sequencing (NGS).
NGS is used to determine the DNA sequence or fingerprint of a cell or an organism. It analyzes billions of DNA fragments from a cell in a matter of hours.
Catherine Fournier Talks About HiDRA-seq
Last June 19, 2020, on a campus-based internet radio program called Radyo DZLB’s GALING UPLB, Aquino-Fournier has talked about how the HiDRA-seq works.
According to her, HiDRA-seq’s method involves counting how many virus particles are present in the sample just like the real-time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRT–PCR).
“The difference is that [while] in rRT-PCR, the output is a fluorescent intensity, in our test, the output is COVID-specific sequences. Since we have the sequences, we can determine the strain of the virus depending on the mutations that we find.”
– Catharine Aquino-Fournier, University of the Philippines Los Baños alumna
Aquino-Fournier added, “in the technology we developed, we are trying to skip the part of extracting the genetic material and get it straight from saliva, or gargles, or directly from the swab.”
Furthermore, the method also has a built-in contact tracing functionality, which, according to Aquino-Fournier, can detect where or from whom a person got infected.
However, according to the FGCZ head, Ralph Schlapbach, their approach was not developed for diagnostic purposes.
But its promising results showed that it can be used to complement the current diagnostic methods and it can also enable mass testing.
Aquino-Fournier also said that HiDRA-seq is not meant to replace rRT-PCR. Thus, with a shortage of materials used for rRT–PCR, their team tried to develop a technology that will not affect the supply.
As it is a newly developed diagnostic method, their team is continuously seeking feedback from experts and looking at collaboration opportunities in order to improve it further.