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Berkeley scientists work to develop large-scale robotics system to test for COVID-19

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BERKELEY, Calif. (KRON) – Researchers in Berkeley have been working around the clock to set-up a large-scale robotics system to test for COVID-19.

Scientists say they are just days away from potentially testing up to 3,000 samples per day.

In order to stop the spread of novel coronavirus, or COVID-19, Virologist Fyodor Urnov says it’s imperative those who have been infected with the disease are identified and isolated as soon as possible, especially since most people are showing mild or no symptoms but remain highly contagious.​

“We don’t really know, frankly, I don’t think anybody does, how good or bad it’s going to get,” Urnov said.​

Urnov is a Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology at UC Berkeley.​

He is co-leading an effort through the university’s non-profit innovative genomics institute, a partnership with researchers at UC San Francisco, to set-up an automated robotics lab.​

The system will be capable of testing up to three hundred nasal swabs at a time and, up to 3,000 a day.

Results will be available within one day or, as quickly as four hours.​

A stark contrast to what hospitals and clinics across the Bay Area are experiencing with the turnaround often exceeding a week.​

“We will initially support our university community: students, faculty, staff. We’re in active discussions with the city of Berkeley and the public health officer there to provide testing to the city, to the vulnerable in the communities, the most in need,” Urnov said.​​

Urnov says the lab will also analyze samples from Bay Area health care providers, much like the testing being done at UC Davis, where primates are being used to help develop vaccines.

UC Berkeley’s lab will also focus on ways to treat COVID-19.​

“We’re very mindful of the fact that the pandemic is not two years from now, it’s happening today. So, we’re very interested in thinking hard about how to make sure that we support research that could yield tangible results sooner rather than later,” Urnov said.​​

Testing is scheduled to begin Monday.​

Once up and running, the university and non-profit intend to share their testing process with the public which could be replicated around the world.​

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