Nqobile Tshili, Chronicle Reporter
THE National University of Science and Technology (Nust) is set to start manufacturing Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) kits next month following delivery of a US$86 000-reagents manufacturing machine.
The country has been importing PCR kits for Covid-19 tests and Government last year released funds to Nust to procure the Oligomaker reagents manufacturing machine, which should reduce test costs by at least 60 percent.
At the moment, a conclusive PCR test costs around US$60, but once the machine becomes operational, it will reduce the cost to about US$20.
Besides making Covid-19 testing kits, the machine can also make reagents to test for other viruses including HIV.
The financial capacitation of Nust is part of the Government’s efforts to ensure local higher and tertiary institutions become active players in solving national challenges through innovation at the institutions’ innovation hubs.
Nust Applied Genetic Testing Centre (AGTC) director Mr Zephaniah Dhlamini yesterday said the machine arrived in December.
A Chronicle news crew yesterday observed Mr Dhlamini and his team assembling the machine at the Nust Innovation Hub.
“The machine was delivered in early December and it requires certain modifications to be made in the lab for installation. It requires specialised gas networks, as it uses gases like Argon and Nitrogen.
So, we need to put that infrastructure up and it must also operate under a fume-hood. As the machine works, it will release some gases which must be extracted and released in a safe manner so the fume hood must be installed. We have engaged a local company to install that in the Innovation Hub Building. We hope by the end of February, it will be up and running” said Mr Dhlamini.
He said Denmark-based manufacturers of the Oligomaker machine will train staff at Nust on its usage and the training will be done physically or virtually depending on prevailing travel restrictions.
Mr Dhlamini said Zimbabwe would be in a position to detect emerging diseases through DNA sequencing using the machine.
“There are many laboratories testing Covid-19 using PCR, but HIV tests currently available in very few labs are using rapid result tests and with this machine we will be supplying reagents or primers for PCR for different diseases and research programmes which are out there,” said Mr Dhlamini.
“There has been no DNA synthesiser in the country and this will be the first one. We will service universities, research centres such as central veterinary labs where they use a lot of PCR sequencing to detect diseases such as foot and mouth. We will liaise with the Ministry of Health and Child Care and make as many primers and diverse primers as possible for the detection of these pathogens.”
He said the AGTC imports a lot of DNA kits and the procurement of the Oligomaker will see the university reducing the country’s import bill while servicing various economic sub-sectors.
“We have been importing these DNA testing kits and each kit costs about US$5 000, and with this, we will be able to do our own. We have organisations such as Zimbabwe Parks and Wildlife Management Authority (Zimpark), which want us to develop kits for identifying elephants, rhinos and identifying all animals that you may think of, and this needs these primers.
So, we can design all these kits and animal identification protocols. The sky is the limit and we are excited that we have this capability now,” he said. – @nqotshili