Laboratories around the world - including in Ireland - were concerned about supplies of lysis buffer which, while only used in tiny quantities, is a critical component of the entire Covid-19 test process. Over the past couple of weeks a group of 11 Irish scientists from Cork Institute of Technology, University College Cork, Cork University Hospital, Teagasc, University of Limerick and the pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly have developed a formula and produced the component in Ireland.

The group worked collaboratively around the clock, to develop the formula which can be mass produced - and was quality approved by medical scientists who are testing for Covid-19.

Dr Brigid Lucey of Cork Institute of Technology (CIT), who is also President of the Academy of Clinical Science and Laboratory Medicine, explained that the collaborative effort was aimed at facilitating the desperate effort by Ireland and other countries around the world to test for Covid-19 in line with World Health Organisation (WHO) guidelines for controlling the pandemic.

Image: Dr Brigid Lucey Senior Lecturer in Biological Sciences, Cork Institute of Technology.

While concerns within the COVID-19 crisis had to date focused on the so-called 'reagents' used in the latter part of the viral test, experts were also deeply concerned about a shortage of the critical lysis buffer agent of the testing procedure. This is one of the integral parts of the Covid-19 test. The agent not only strips the virus to be analysed from the respiratory secretions in the test sample but it also renders the highly infectious viral agent safe in a laboratory environment.

Speaking to Cork’s Red FM, leading researcher Dr Brigid Lucey explained that her team’s success in producing the lysis buffer will allow countries to take back control of the coronavirus testing process."Everyone understands the importance of testing for the virus and we realised that there were concerns over key elements of the testing process being in short supply for laboratories. We’ve become very used to using commercial formulations, and when that supply necessarily has to stop because the entire world is looking for a limited supply of the same formulation, then it’s a breakthrough when a whole lot of scientists can come together and share their expertise to produce something that actually produces a quality product that can be used diagnostically in a hospital laboratory.’

For a lot of centres, dwindling lysis buffer supplies were causing the most alarm. Dr Lucey worked closely with her University College Cork (UCC) colleague, virologist Dr Martina Scallan, to spearhead a cross-agency drive to develop a formula for the lysis buffer which is being mass produced in Ireland by Eli Lilly - and that is being made available online to other countries across Europe and further afield threatened with supply shortages.

Image: The Lysis Buffer

"We developed four formulas and submitted them to a laboratory that was doing Covid-19 testing for quality verification," she said. "They chose the best formula and validated it for use. It basically means that Ireland will have more than adequate supplies of lysis buffer as the testing regime for the virus is increased."

Dr Lucey said the development was the result of close collaboration between CIT, UCC, Cork University Hospital, the University of Limerick, Teagasc and Eli Lilly.