NABDA invents machine to test for covid-19, other viruses

Just recently, the National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) was hosted by the Federal Ministry of Science and Technology in collaboration with the Ministry of Agriculture on the launching of an indigenous RNAswift test kit to help test COVID-19 in Nigeria and Africa at large. BINTA SHAMA reports.

Study shows that to be able to conduct a test, the viral information which comes as the RNA has to first be extracted and without this extraction, no test can be conducted because it is the RNA that will identify the possibility of the covid-19 virus in one’s system.

The RNA test kit as popularly called was initiated to help test for covid-19 in a more quicker and affordable way thus, to help the nation’s income. The testing is said to be a “not to do it yourself” thing because, it is dependent on the PCR. Further study shows that there are fundamental requirements before the PCR level in the sense that when samples are received, there would be need to analyze the DNA where it can be detected and utilised by PCR machines.

Thermal cycler

Further speaking on the thermal cycler (also known as a thermocycler, PCR machine or DNA amplifier), it is a laboratory apparatus most commonly used to amplify segments of DNA via the polymerase chain reaction (PCR). Thermal cyclers may also be used in laboratories to facilitate other temperature-sensitive reactions, including restriction enzyme digestion or rapid diagnostics. The device is also said to have a thermal block with holes where tubes holding the reaction mixtures can be inserted. The cycler then raises and lowers the temperature of the block in discrete, pre-programmed steps.

Speaking in an interview with press men, the Director-General, National Biotechnology Development Agency (NABDA) Prof. Alex Akpa said the RNA test kit is a major breakthrough for scientists in Nigeria because it was developed in a partnership between scientists in NABDA and other related agencies alongside “our temple partner scientists at the University of Sheffield led by Dr Alison Nwokeoji,” he disclosed.

“If you noticed recently, the country ran out of reagents for testing covid-19 in Kano Lagos,  where they had to stop testing for some time due to inadequacy of the products, the aim for this initiative is to help the federal government test more people daily in order to curb the pandemic. Our invention is over 500% cheaper than what we have now available. The kits available presently costs N50 to N60,000 but the RNA Swift will cost you between N4 to N5,000 only per test and that is why the federal ministry of agriculture has a target to test five million farmers in the next 3 months and another interesting thing is that the African Development Bank (AfDB) wants to start up testing all over Africa using the kits because of its efficiency and cost-effectiveness. It is sensitive, cheap, easy and available when fully produced in Nigeria. The African Development Bank and Federal Government are solidly behind this projects.

Free test

“Another important fact is that the farmers are expected to be tested for free within a stipulated period of time because at this time the federal government of Nigeria is testing everyone for COVID19 for free at fifty thousand naira per person and you can imagine the amount of stress and  burden this RNAswift test is taking off their shoulder and that is why this option of five thousand naira or less is a very big relief for the federal government’s pocket at this stage not only to our economy but to our African people. I believe we all are aware that most of the kits used are imported ones and we already know the implications of paying in dollars as to the exchange rates,” Akpa noted.

While addressing the world press conference the Minister of Science and Technology, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu said the RNAswift was borne out of a need in the Agricultural sector to test Nigerian farmers and labourers.

Indigenous scientists and innovators

He described the development of the testing kit as “Nigeria’s gift and contribution to help Africa and the World fight the Covid-19 pandemic,” adding that by encouraging indigenous scientists and innovators, Nigeria has the capacity to find solutions to global challenges.

“I want to confirm to you that the RNASwift product team is in consultation with the African Development Bank for the funding of an African-wide testing programme for COVID-19 and the establishment for RNASwift production in Nigeria.”

He commended the Federal Ministry of Agriculture, Federal Ministry of Finance, NABDA, Sheffield University, Scientists and the Organized Private Sector for their collaborative efforts in the development of the testing kits.

Earlier, the Minister of Agriculture, Alhaji Sabo Nanono said his ministry was working hard to ensure food security in the country, by supporting the fight against the spread of Covid-19.

Food security

He said his ministry will continue to be in the forefront of the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, by ensuring that the newly developed testing kits is made available to test over 5 million farmers across the country.

He commended the efforts of the federal government in minimising the spread of the virus

Earlier at the launch of the invention, the Country Coordinator, Open Forum on Agricultural Biotechnology, NABDA, Dr. Rose Gidado, said the validated RNA swift test kit for COVID-19 was developed by a Nigerian scientist at the University of Sheffield, U.K., Dr. Alison Nwokeoji, adding that the evaluation and validation of the RNAswift Test Kit for COVID-19 was carried out in the immunology laboratory of the NABDA.

 Nigeria’s testing capacity

She said the African Development Bank would take over the manufacture of the test kits so as to expand Nigeria’s testing capacity, with emphasis on farmers’ health.

Gidado further said that the test kit will test more than 20,000 samples per day, “if we set up more testing centres, we can easily do 50,000 with automation,’’ she said.

Speaking, the Chief Molecular Bioengineer at the National Reference Laboratory of NCDC, Dr. Ndodo Nnaemeka, said the agency’s Director General, Dr. Chikwe Ihekweazu, had directed him to launch the project. He added that the project had been designed to solve the problem of RNA extraction kit shortage, which had become a global issue.

More extraction kits

He said there was the need to have more extraction kits in-country, and that there were growing demands worldwide for the product.

“The western world prioritises their own interest first by making sure that they meet their local needs before exporting to other countries; so, there was really need for it,” he said.

“The kits compete favourably well with other international kits we are using,” he said; adding, “in fact, it scored highly in purity and in quantity of extraction and we are thinking of scaling up production,’’ he added.

The RNA extraction kits is said to have been validated by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) developed by Nigerian scientists. And that the project is said to be a Pan-African strive in partnership with Ethiopia, NCDC, and the University of Sheffield, U.K., among others; with funding to come from African Development Bank (ADB) for a successful validation of the Ribonucleic Acid extraction test kit to enable local production of cheap testing kits for COVID-19.

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