UP alumna Catharine Aquino-Fournier develops Covid-19 testing technology in Switzerland

HSBC Philippines
Catharine Aquino-Fournier
Catharine Aquino-Fornier’s group developed the Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology that can process 1 million samples per day. Screengrab from DZLB video.

University of the Philippines alumna Catharine Aquino-Fournier is leading the breakthrough development of mass-testing technology to combat COVID-19 in Zurich, Switzerland.

Catharine Aquino-Fornier graduated in 1996 with a degree in BS Biology and pursued MS Molecular Biology and Biotechnology in UP Los Baños (UPLB).

The Filipino scientist from Laguna province is now working at the Functional Genomic Center in Zurich where she is the group leader of the application called HiDRA-seq.

In her June 19, 2020, statement made over Radyo DZLB’s GALING UPLB, the UPLB campus-based internet radio program, Aquino-Fornier said that their method can detect the novel coronavirus in a matter of hours.

According to the UP alumna, the Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology can process 1 million samples per day.

Aquino-Fornier’s group developed a technology that lessens the processing time of COVID testing which differentiates them from the normal standard of testing.

“In the technology we developed, we are trying to skip the part of extracting the genetic material and get it straight from saliva, or gargles, or directly from the swab,” she said.

While the real-time reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (rRT–PCR) is considered the “gold standard” for COVID-19 testing that counts virus particles, the HiDRA-seq’s method can produce COVID-specific sequences output.

“The difference is that [while] in rRT-PCR, the output is a fluorescent intensity, in our test, the output is COVID-specific sequences. Since we have the sequences, we can determine the strain of the virus depending on the mutations that we find,” Aquino-Fournier explained.

With the shortage of reagents needed for rRT-PCR, the Filipino scientist’s group thought of a way that would not affect the needs of the “gold standard” testing.”

Some of the advantages of their breakthrough development are:

  1. Optimized the use of reagents or resources required for testing
  2. Faster test results
  3. Built-in contact tracing that produces more accurate results
  4. Easier collection of samples through gargle
  5. More samples can be processed in a day

Catharine Aquino-Fournier clarified that their group does not intend to replace the “gold standard” of testing but more as a complementary tool to it.

The Filipino scientist also confessed that their technology is not 100% accurate and that her team is constantly seeking feedback from experts and collaboration opportunities to improve it.

More good news in the fight against COVID 19 include the opening of the UPLB COVID Testing Center, and the use of Virgin Coconut Oil (VCO) to keep both doctors healthy and treat patients.

SEND CONGRATULATIONS in the comments below to UP alumna Catharine Aquino-Fornier for leading the group that developed breakthrough technology to fight COVID-19 in Switzerland.

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