GIFS Lab Manager Marco Pellino, working on the KingFisher™ Flex (Credit: Pierre-Luc Pradier)

Global Institute for Food Security at USask Supporting Saskatchewan Health Authority COVID-19 Testing

The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) at the University of Saskatchewan (USask) is providing its research equipment to support the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s (SHA) diagnostic testing for COVID-19.

Using GIFS’ KingFisher™ Flex instrument, the SHA will be able to run additional diagnostic tests for COVID-19.

“We know how important testing is to understanding the spread and occurrence of COVID-19, and we wanted to do our part at GIFS to support the Saskatchewan Health Authority’s efforts with this,” GIFS CEO Steven Webb said.

“A number of the tools and technologies used in agriculture and food research and development are also used in medical science. GIFS has both scale and capacity that can help address challenges in medical diagnosis and we are pleased to be able to make our KingFisher™ instrument available to help meet this very important need.”

Manufactured by ThermoFisher Scientific, the KingFisher™ Flex is a lab instrument used for extracting and purifying DNA, RNA, protein and cells from a large number of samples. Extremely versatile, the machine can be used for various high throughput (very large scale and automated) applications including genetic testing and sequencing, virus detection, protein analysis, and RNA gene expression.

The instrument will be transferred from GIFS’ lab on the USask campus to Saskatoon’s Royal University Hospital for use in the hospital.

“When we realized we were in need of additional equipment and supplies to meet our testing needs, we reached out to our friends and colleagues at the University of Saskatchewan and the response was overwhelming and immediate,” says Dr. Joseph Blondeau, Provincial Lead and Head of Clinical Microbiology for the SHA.

“Thanks to the immediate responses and rapid coordination to relocate the machines, we were able to quickly begin using them to expand the testing of specimens from our patients. We are truly one community, united in the fight against COVID-19.”

In addition to the KingFisher™, GIFS has also donated testing supplies, disposable tip combs and microplates, for the SHA’s use in testing equipment. These supplies are standard tools used in research and diagnostic testing and are made of material which makes them ideal for processing, mixing and isolating molecules.

“Once the provincial government declared a state of emergency, we began to think about different ways to support the SHA,” GIFS Lab Manager Marco Pellino said. “When we learned there was a need for testing supplies and equipment, we had no doubt that donating what we could was the right thing to do.”

GIFS is also assisting USask’s College of Engineering efforts in designing 3D-printed N95 masks for use by emergency room doctors and nurses. Grant Tingstad, research engineer at the institute, is working with the engineering college team, while GIFS is providing 3D printing materials and use of its laboratory and equipment.

“We are truly inspired by the many ways the entire university community has come together to help flatten the COVID-19 curve,” said Webb. “The different stories of commitment to this cause shine a light on the quality of innovation and the strong sense of community values here, and we are pleased to be a part of this community.