IIT Alumni Council announces the winner of Covid19 Pool Testing strategy

May 8, 2020

One of the challenges in the fight against Covid19 is arising from limited availability of reliable and affordable RTPCR assays and machines. The logical solution to solve this challenge is to evolve options that permit testing of the maximum possible individuals with the minimum possible number of molecular diagnostic tests. One such option is pool testing. Pool Testing involves mixing the samples of multiple individuals and then testing the combined sample in a single test. Another option is to use other tests such as ultrasound and xrays scanned by AI systems to compliment or supplement reliable molecular diagnostic tests.

To address the need for rapid scale up of Covid19 testing in-spite of limitations in RTPCR capacity, the IIT C19 Task Force announced a Global contest among IIT alumni under the Funda Man Global Challenge series. The objective of the Funda Man Global Challenge was to define the minimum number of tests required to accurately diagnose the Covid 19 status of a group of 10,000 individuals . In short , it is to define the Pool testing algorithm and protocol for best results .

“We are very happy at the response of our Funda Man Global Challenge One. We wanted to quickly identify and evaluate options for choosing the best Pool Testing Algorithm by encouraging a large number of IIT alumni across the globe to participate. The distinguished jury chaired by Padma Shri Prof Manindra Agarwal , chose the solution proposed by Parag Shah, an alumnus of IIT Bombay, as the winner of the contest . The winner strategy can increase test capacity by up to 10x at no additional cost. C19 Taskforce of IIT Alumni Council has forwarded this Pool Testing Strategy as it’s recommendation to the Government of India for consideration ”, said Ravi Sharma, President, IIT Alumni Council.

The proven and mass deployed test for Covid-19 is a genetic molecular diagnostic test carried out by RTqPCR machines. Globally, each sample is tested individually. It is however possible to mix upto ten samples into one sample using the indigenous Kodoy Technology Stack which is an open system wherein any standard RTPCR machine modified as per the stack can be programmed to work as a semi-continuous line with any compatible test kit or assay. Most commercial players offer a closed system with batch processing. A combination of pool testing with open systems holds the promise of a 100x increase in capacity of testing at a 85% lower cost for the proposed mega lab in Mumbai.

Parag Shah explained his approach, “My Algorithm is based on the theory of probability – there will be an optimal number of mix (samples) for different percentage of positive cases. The whole process/ algorithm and right optimal
mix will depend upon this percentage number , a probable share of positive cases in the set. Though initially one may not have the exact number , one can start with an assumption and change it based on the data that turns up. Also,
the process of optimization is to junk multiple negative cases in single test. (e.g. 10 samples together test negative, then in 1 test we are removing 9 samples).

This proposed method of testing can save significant number of tests and will allow mass testing. In mass testing, this method can practically use as few as 1500 tests to diagnose 10,000 patients. Shah, who is remembered by his hostel peers for playing chess blindfolded, is the founder of Mechsoft Group Mumbai that builds innovative and algorithmic software products and solution across industries.

The selection of the Jury for the Funda Man Challenge One on Pool Testing Strategy (FMC1) was ratified by the Council of Directors of twenty Indian Institutes of Technology at the IIT Alumni Council with the IIT Kanpur Director as first Chairman of the Director’s Council. “The technical quality of responses to the Funda Man Challenge have been excellent . I appreciate IIT Alumni Council for creating the collaboration model of Alumni and Faculty .

The collaboration between global alumni and the institutes has ensured the best quality solution of a very complex problem in a short time.” said Prof Abhay Karandikar , an IIT alumnus, Director IIT Kanpur.

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