NUST receives funds to procure Covid-19 reagents manufacturing machine

THE University has received funds from Government to procure a Covid-19 reagents manufacturing machine, which will enable NUST to make Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kits.

Once NUST starts manufacturing the PCR kits, the cost of Covid-19 testing in the country is expected to be reduced by over 60 percent.

Currently, the conclusive test costs about US$60 and may go as low as US$20 once the machine becomes operational.

Besides making Covid-19 testing kits, the machine can make reagents to test for many other diseases that include HIV.

The development will save the country from importing the conclusive diagnostic test kit that determines if one is infected by analysing a sample for genetic material from the virus.

The new machine will also enable the country to detect various Covid-19 variants.

NUST will produce about 50 000 PCR kits weekly while the country conducts about 15 000 Covid-19 weekly at the moment.

The Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education, Innovation, Science and Technology Development, Professor Amon Murwira, said Government released the funds as it realises the critical role played by NUST in the Covid-19 fight.

"It's our responsibility to support the Innovation Hub and one of the issues that NUST is doing is genetics stuff. You know that NUST was the first in Bulawayo to convert the TB Laboratories at Mpilo Central Hospital for Covid-19 testing. We are going further to try and manufacture some of the testing materials. We have gone ahead to fund them to do that. It's a lot of money. It is enough to buy the machine, the amount doesn't matter," said Prof Murwira.

He said the money will capacitate NUST to import the machine and install it.

The acting director of NUST Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC), Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini, said the machine will be delivered into the country in October.

He said due to Covid-19 related pressure, the manufacturer of the PCR making machine is battling to clear a backlog.

"They (Government) gave us €71 000 in US dollar equivalent terms (US$86 532.60). The money is meant to buy a DNA synthesizer also known as an oligomaker.

"This is a machine that makes primers which are the major reagents of PCR testing. The DNA synthesizers are used to synthesise what we call in short oligos and these are the key reagents in PCR reactions or tests," he said.

"We will use this machine to synthesise primers to tests Covid-19 and also detect different variants in Covid-19 samples. We can easily match the variant with primers. In essence, we would now be making reagents of PCR testing."

Mr Dhlamini added: "So AGTC is moving a step further rather than just testing we are saying let us manufacture reagents. This machine is used for manufacturing PCR primers among other things. We hope that when we start manufacturing these reagents, Covid-19 tests will be reduced to around US$20 to US$25."

He said the oligomaker will be the first DNA synthesiser in the country.

"It does PCR primers, they can be used in so many things, we can make PCR primus for HIV testing and HIV viral load testing. Even in forensic we can now make forensic PCR kits for detecting variations in wild animals like elephants and so on and so forth. The applications are endless," he said. – Online.

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