IIT Alumni Council to set up MegaLab in Mumbai to conduct 1-cr COVID-19 tests a month

As part of its efforts to fight the raging COVID-19 pandemic, the IIT Alumni Council on Thursday announced setting up of a mega lab in the metropolis with a capacity to test 1 crore persons a month.

By next week, the council will identify the corporate partners who will fund the ambitious project through a global competition. The selection will be done by an independent jury.

Having launched the first ”Covid Test Bus” in the city earlier in the month, the council also said trials have already begun on two of the supercomputer clusters in the megapolis, which alone has seen over 35,000 cases of the close to 1.58 lakh in the country and nearly 2,000 of the over 4,700 deaths so far.

While vaccine is still more than a year away in the best-case scenario, testing capacity has emerged as the biggest challenge. So, the focus of the mega lab is to ensure timely testing.

It can be noted the council has also set up a COVID-19 Taskforce under the chairmanship of K Vijay Raghavan, who is an IIT Kanpur alumnus and the principal scientific officer to the government, along with 20 IIT directors as members apart from many more distinguished alumni of the institutes as patrons.

“The IIT Alumni Council has decided to set up the largest genetic testing laboratory for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases after consulting global experts in the areas of virology, RT-PCR machine manufactures, test kits, pooling algorithms, aritificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and microfluidics.

“A dedicated team has already started the work on designing the MegaLab Mumbai with a capacity of 1-crore RT-PCR tests per month,” said Ravi Sharma, president of the IIT Alumni Council.

“The MegaLab will be based on the end-to-end Kodoy indigenous technology stack and will have adequate capacity for testing the entire population of Mumbai for other infectious diseases, once a month,” he said.

The lab will have an initial capacity for 10 lakh tests, which will go up to 30 lakh tests in the next 30 days and 60 lakh tests by the 100th day or the third phase, Sharma added.

The COVID-19 Taskforce, announced on March 25 — the day the first phase of the now-nine-weeks-long national lockdown was enforced, has various working groups involving over 1,000 dedicated alumni spread all over the world to find and create appropriate solutions to fight the pandemic.

Apart from these, the council also has set up digital X-ray systems at the Poddar Hospital that uses AI to detect coronavirus for the first time in the country on April 23; and on May 1, it launched the first COVID Test Bus in Mumbai and from May 10 they started the work on indigenising the test kits.

While the first pilot of the Test Bus is on with the Pune-based Kransnaa Diagnostics, the version two is underway under the second phase, Sharma said.

Asked whether the over 1,000 alumni will also financially contribute to the lab, Sharma, who is an electrical engineer from IIT Roorkee and a former CEO of Adani Power, said their role is primarily to throw up the ideas, but every member is likely to chip in financially.

“This is the first time that tens of hundreds of IITians are coming together to work on a real-time project, and in national interest. We’ve been working with various companies to get them as partners ever since the lockdown was announced,” Sharma told PTI, and added that selection of the partners will be done week by an independent jury.

“We are already in advanced stage of discussions with five-seven companies and by next week we will finalise them,” he said.

Refusing to quantify the project cost, Sharma expressed the hope that money will not be a problem for a national humanitarian cause like fighting the COVID pandemic.

Stating that the lab will be a permanent set-up, he said the location of the lab, which will be a part of a hospital or a standalone facility near the airport, will be finalised next month.

“The idea and the objective is to make the MegaLab Mumbai a permanent national facility for COVID and all other infectious diseases,” Sharma said.

The MegaLab Mumbai is the latest initiative of the council to design and establish the largest genetic testing lab for COVID-19 and other infectious diseases like TB with an end-to-end capacity to carry out over 10 million tests a month.

The lab will be based on the end-to-end Kodoy indigenous technology stack, which is divided into 64 steps–from collection of virus in the throat to the virus being ultimately zapped/disinfected by UV at on completion of testing in a RT-PCR.

The lab will comprise robotic contactless sample transport from the vehicles to the testing line with robotic pooling followed by highspeed RNA extraction using magnetic bead technology.

The IIT Alumni Council is the largest global body of alumni, students and faculty across all the 23 IITs with over 100 city chapters.  – The Hindu BusinessLine

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