The first set of mobile laboratories designed by a team at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc.) is ready to be deployed and will be handed over to the State government shortly.
Speaking to The Hindu days after being appointed, IISc. director Govindan Rangarajan said the faculty members were engaged in many areas of research on COVID-19. “One of our labs is working on an indigenous vaccine in collaboration with an IISc.-incubated startup. We are also developing test kits that are less expensive and yield faster results. A research team has designed mobile labs for RT-PCR testing that can be dispatched to remote areas, and these are ready to be deployed and will be handed over to the State government shortly. A COVID-19 test centre has also been set up on campus. Our researchers have built prototypes of low-cost scalable ventilators made with locally available components,” he said.
The team developing the mobile labs said one sample collection, sample processing, and sample testing lab each was being handed over to the State government this week. Together, these three labs will enable the processing of up to 200 samples a day — from collection to final RT-PCR test report. “With the flexibility of deployment anywhere in the State, MITR Labs enable a critical tool in the COVID-19 response in the State by reducing the turnaround time for test results. Depending on where the Health Department sees the most need for testing and the longest delay in getting test results, MITR Labs can be deployed near that location,” said Sai Siva Gorthi, associate professor, Instrumentation and Applied Physics, IISc.
The team at ShanMukha Innovations, a company incubated at the Society for Innovation and Development, IISc., is geared up to produce additional units of MITR Labs through their network of vehicle, fabrication, and equipment suppliers. It has started working with the State government to share the benefits of the solution and generate demand to drive the scale-up plans.
Prof. Rangarajan also said that another important line of research being carried out was predicting the future course of this pandemic and the effects of various containment measures, which could be of immediate use to policymakers and public health experts. An app that can help identify people who may have crossed paths with COVID-19 patients is also being deployed, he said.
Stressing the need for institutions and governments to learn to work together during these unprecedented times, he said the pandemic was a reminder of the importance of coming together to work on scientific and technological solutions to society’s most pressing problems. “We will continue working on such solutions and will engage with industry and government agencies to ensure that they are rapidly deployed to tackle this crisis,” he added.
Asked about the challenges ahead administratively and academically, the IISc. director said the first priority was ensuring the safety of students, faculty and staff as they start working towards resuming normal teaching and research activities. “The other pressing need is to ensure the mental well-being of our students and to help them navigate through these difficult times. We are currently making plans for the next academic year and are discussing issues related to providing further support for COVID-19 research.”
For the coming academic year, admission interviews were conducted online. “We will also have to do the same for comprehensive exams and thesis defence. Discussions are on about how to hold classes, although they are also likely to be conducted remotely. The same is true for placement interviews,” he said.