Mumbai: IIT alumni plan to set up world’s largest test lab

The IIT alumni council announced its plan to set up the world’s largest Covid-19 test laboratory in the Mumbai Metropolitan Region within the next 100 days. The laboratory will have the capacity to test one crore people a month.

IIT alumni council chairperson Ravi Sharma said the location for the facility was yet to be finalised.

The council comprises members from all 23 Indian Institutes of Technology in the country. On May 1, IITBombay donated a bus to facilitate the collection of swab samples for testing in Mumbai.

The initiative also includes the participation of IIT faculty as well as final year students. “While we are working on this project, we feel India must do more for healthcare infrastructure particularly for testing and finding cures,” said Sharma. “We thought of establishing a mega lab in Mumbai to tackle not just Covid-19, but many other infectious diseases as well.”

Sharma said the aim to develop the best and cheapest testing technology possible. “Once set up, Mumbaikars would be able to get tested once a month,” he said. “The idea is to develop an open space platform. It should be the best technologically and the cheapest. We have to disrupt the pricing structure and only then will it work. The current price of a testing kit is Rs.1,250. The price has to be cheaper.”

The council said it decided to set up the testing facility after consulting global experts in the areas of virology, RT - PCR machine manufacture, test kits, pooling algorithms, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robotics and microfluidics. A dedicated team has already started work on designing MegaLab Mumbai, which will have a capacity of 10 million RT-PCR tests.

The IIT Alumni Council had formed a C19 task force with Dr K VijayRaghavan as its chairperson and twenty IIT directors as members along with distinguished IIT alumni within 24 hours of the lockdown announcement on March 25. The task force has various working groups involving over a 1,000 alumni across the globe collaborating to find solutions to fight Covid-19.

The IIT team is developing equipment that is contact-free and excludes the role of a technician. Aadhaar cards or passports will be used as identification documents to register for the test.

The testing infrastructure involves automated sample collection stations mounted on cars and C19 test buses. The MegaLab itself will comprise contactless sample transport from the vehicles to the testing line which will be followed by high speed RNA extraction using magnetic bead technology, the council said.

The MegaLab teams will have access to supercomputers at four remote IIT campuses, which will provide continuous data mining and machine learning based support, the team said.

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