May 05, 2020

With Switzerland starting to transition out of lockdown, testing for SARS-CoV-2, being a cornerstone of all response strategies, is more important than ever in order to contain the risk of a renewed increase in cases as public life slowly picks up again. Ensuring an adequate number of daily tests for this task requires precise and timely distribution of equipment, supplies and other resources. To support this endeavor, the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, as part of the National COVID-19 Science Task Force, are collaborating with Spiez Laboratory on an online platform, Academic Resources for COVID-19 (ARC), to match critical support needed by Switzerland’s diagnostic laboratories with the support offered by the Swiss academic sector.

A service to support Swiss diagnostic laboratories and testing for SARS-CoV-2

The ARC platform works by matching requests for critical equipment, reagents and consumable goods required by Swiss diagnostic laboratories involved in combating COVID-19 with supplies available from Swiss academic groups. The requests are prioritized and marshalled by Spiez Laboratory, which was appointed by the Swiss Federal Government for this task. An expert group of moderators then processes the requests. Once a match is established, the respective groups are contacted to organize the pick up as quickly as possible.

Evolving the platform towards real-time matching of critical requests

Prof. Roman Stocker and Prof. Sebastian Bonhoeffer from ETH Zurich and their teams have set up and operated the initial ARC platform since the middle of March. Numerous important matches, e.g. for PCR machines and reagents, have been established. “In this crisis, everyone realizes how essential it is to get the right resources to where they are needed as quickly as possible,” says Roman Stocker. “So we are glad to have been able to do our bit by launching this platform for the entire Swiss research sector and get it up and running.” Now, following a productive collaboration between the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich, a new version of the platform which displays an up-to-date dashboard of what is needed and where, has been developed and rolled out.

Prof. Felix Schürmann, Director of Computing at the Blue Brain. at Campus Biotech explains, “The initial platform developed by Roman, Sebastian and their teams of very motivated young scientists that act as moderators immediately proved useful in this crisis. With the Blue Brain Project’s decision to make its resources available for the fight against COVID-19, we could bring to bear our experience in scientific workflows and software development for rethinking the platform after the first wave. With the valuable operational feedback from the ETH Zurich team, and additional input from Spiez Laboratory experts, we were able within a short period of time to develop a new version of the ARC platform that makes the matchmaking process simpler and reduces the amount of human interventions required. Importantly, it makes the requests and supplies more immediate and thus the matches can be exactly tailored to overcome specific, high priority blockages or shortages on the testing side.”

Entrusted by the Federal Council with the monitoring of the national laboratory situation and supporting the Swiss COVID-19 laboratories with respect to their supply chain, Spiez Laboratory was involved early on with the EPFL Blue Brain Project and ETH Zurich ARC initiative. Dr. César Metzger, member of the management board at Spiez Laboratory and appointed Lead of the COVID-19 Laboratory Coordination efforts, says of the ARC platform, "It was impressive to see how fast the scientists at ETH Zurich and the EPFL Blue Brain Project were able to create and run the ARC platform – reaching out to hundreds of laboratories, at first across the ETH-domain and then to the rest of the Swiss academic community."

The new version of the platform is operational and open to all Swiss universities and related organizations in the extended Switch Community who are able and willing to contribute to the supply – you need a Switch log in to access the platform.

National COVID-19 Science Task Force and a call for participation from the Academic Community

The ARC platform is part of the activities overseen by the National COVID-19 Science Task Force. Specifically, it is part of the Exchange Platform expert group led by Prof. Stocker. He explains, “We are seeing a unique willingness of Swiss academic groups to support the Swiss diagnostic laboratories with material and expertise. For those in the Swiss academic community that have not yet connected with the platform, especially biology, biochemistry, chemistry and other laboratories involved with molecular biology, we strongly encourage them to log on to the platform and offer their resources in the fight against COVID-19. It already is and will continue to make a vital difference and help save lives.”

To access the platform, click here – 

 Source: Blue Brain Project.