How the University of Tübingen uses QIAsphere in COVID-19 research labs

February 18, 2021

At the Institute of Tropical Medicine in the University of Tübingen, research associate Albert Lalremruata is designing, developing, and validating molecular diagnostic assays to support clinical trials.

Previously, his group was mainly focused on clinical studies of malaria vaccines and anti-malarial drugs. But in 2020, they also became involved in COVID-19 vaccine trials.

In this interview, Albert describes his experience with QIAsphere, his initial doubts, how those doubts were resolved, and how it made his work more efficient. He also gives advice to new QIAsphere users, on what they can expect when using the instrument for the first time.

Albert Lalremruata

Can you tell us about your lab routine before you used QIAsphere?

So our institute is on two floors. The lower floor is where the physicians see the patients and the vaccine-trial volunteers, and where blood samples are taken. Any lab-related work comes up [to the upper floor], where we have automated DNA extraction facilities and the PCR and pre-PCR room.

The entire research laboratories and my office are all in the upper floor.

But when we began doing COVID-19 research, we needed extra space for extracting viral RNA from the patient swabs. So we transformed one of the labs in the lower floor into an extraction room with biosafety level 2 standards. Then we put the QIAcube Connect there.

This extraction room is in a restricted area. To go inside, you need to change into full PPE [personal protective equipment], with the overalls, the goggles, the cap covering the hair – everything.

My colleague is the one who does extractions. I do PCR analysis and data interpretation.

When my colleague receives the swab samples from the clinician, she goes into the extraction room. And she has to change her normal S1 lab coat to the full PPE.

Then she does the most risky part, handling highly infectious viral particles from the cotton swabs.

Then she does automated RNA extraction on the QIAcube Connect. By then it’s already less infectious.

When that’s done, she takes off her PPE, and she goes out of the extraction room and sends me a WhatsApp text. Then I have 30 minutes or so to get ready with my reagents and everything while she goes back into the extraction room.

When she comes up with the samples, then I can start pipetting.

What part of your daily routine was improved by having remote connectivity to your instrument?

So when we used WhatsApp to communicate, I had to wait for my colleague to tell me when to start my preparation and how long I have to wait. But with her PPE inside the extraction room, my colleague cannot use her phone.

Now my colleague does not need to come out of the room and interrupt her routine to give me information. I can already monitor the real-time status of the run from my own phone or from my laptop. I can plan ahead and prepare other things. That’s really great.

Did you have any doubts about using QIAsphere before you installed it? What made you decide to use QIAsphere in the end?

In the beginning, my biggest concern was data protection. So I discussed this with my supervisor, and we looked at the [cybersecurity] whitepaper that QIAGEN provides. We read the information on encryption and authentication and how the system was tested by [certified] independent security testers.

Also, what we enter into the machine is, at most, the self-definable sample ID. There is no information about the sex, ethnicity, patient name, or anything else. In the end, we felt comfortable that our data was safe using this system.

What advice would you give someone who is still deciding on whether to install QIAsphere?

I think this is a very good advantage, to monitor your instrument from the comfort of your office and be able to plan ahead. It makes it easier to work on other things.

Also, QIAsphere installation is quite easy. The instructions were easy to follow. As long as the connection is fine, the installation is very straightforward. It’s been a few weeks since we installed it. It’s easy to use. I am hoping this is added to other instruments of QIAGEN. We’re really happy, and we’re excited to use it more.

Learn more about how you, too, could have greater lab productivity from outside the lab. Visit www.qiagen.com/qiasphere.

QIAcube Connect is designed to perform fully automated purification of nucleic acids and proteins in molecular biology applications. The system is intended for use by professional users trained in molecular biological techniques and the operation of QIAcube Connect.

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