The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated just how a global emergency can affect not only our healthcare infrastructures, but also the global economy—bringing the whole world to a standstill. It has posed enormous challenges in terms of virology research in order to save lives and minimize the effects on our everyday existence. Virus assays are proven tools for studying viral enzymes, replication and cell entry mechanisms among others. Microplate readers can be employed to accelerate the whole viral and vaccine research process. This is much needed in a world where major virus outbreaks occur more frequently.
Epidemics and pandemics occur more often
Before SARS-CoV2, the world was witness to other serious viruses. In fact, the frequency of occurrence of pandemics and epidemics is increasing with time. Previously, major epidemics occurred twice or three times a century. Over the past 20 years, we have experienced six major virus outbreaks. Between 2002-2004, the SARS- CoV-1 pandemic affected 30 countries. To date, there is still no proven antiviral therapy to treat SARS. Then there was the “Swine flu” in 2009, which lasted 19 months, affecting 214 countries. Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) broke out in 2012 and was contained, yet also still has no vaccine. The Ebola virus lasted from 2013 to 2016 with the subsequent emergence of the vaccine rVSV-ZEBOV. Then there was the Zika virus epidemic in 2015, which was controlled and vaccines are still under development. Then there was/is SARS-CoV2 that caused COVID-19.
Laboratories use microplate readers to read chemical, biological or physical reactions, properties, and analytes within the wells of a microplate. This is usually achieved using a 96-well plate containing numerous samples. The reactions or processes that occur are converted into optical signals and the microplate reader detects these signals.
Microplate readers are available in two main forms: single-mode or multi-mode. A single-mode system can detect only one type of signal, such as fluorescence. Multi-mode systems, in contrast, feature different technologies. Therefore, they are able to detect several luminous signals, including absorbance, fluorescence, time-resolved fluorescence, time-resolved fluorescence energy transfer, and glow luminescence.
Microplate readers to the rescue
Microplate readers really count in a laboratory when it comes to analyzing vitro microplate assays in record time—quantity and speed are paramount in times of a pandemic. Rapid testing methods are needed for disease surveillance and outbreak management. But that’s not all… vitro assays can be employed for small and large-scale clinical trials. This is so that in the case of vaccines, approval for emergency use can be obtained. Furthermore, pharmaceutical regulatory authorities even favor and suggest the use of using vitro assays before the clinical study stage.
SARS-CoV-2 and microplate readers
Microplate readers continue to play a vital role in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic. Loop-mediated isothermal amplification (LAMP) assays have been developed for the detection of viruses in large populations. This is an alternative to Reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR). By using a microplate reader when the test isothermally run at 65°C, test results can be provided for SARS-CoV-2 in less than 30 minutes.
Furthermore, ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) screening tests combined with microplate readers have also been widely employed. ELISA was the first test widely used for screening for HIV because of its high sensitivity. In the case of COVID-19, it has been used for the detection of antigen and antibodies and improving lateral flow tests.
Epidemics and ongoing viral infections not only cause deaths, but can overwhelm clinics and hospitals, especially during peak illness periods. High levels of absenteeism can occur together with a loss in productivity. We should not of course forget seasonal influenza which has been with us for many years. According to the WHO, on a worldwide level, these annual season influenza epidemics are estimated to result in about 3 to 5 million cases of severe illness, and about 290,000 to 650,000 respiratory deaths. But with technology on our side, there is hope for major advances in drug discovery and genomics. In addition to cancer immunotherapies, with the mRNA vaccine revolution, perhaps one day vaccines against cancer may become a reality.