The Youth BIOlab team partnered recently with onsite experts from Intrinsic Analytics to demonstrate what’s happening behind the science of COVID-19 nasopharyngeal swab tests, in particular, the gold standard Reverse Transcriptase Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-PCR) test it provides for clients needing the earliest and quickest possible detection of the virus, even before symptoms emerge.
“With the Intrinsic Analytics lab being located right here in our building and having this built-in relationship with their team, we decided it would be a great opportunity to develop some online content for students to understand the RT-PCR techniques used and perhaps inspire them towards further interest in the field of science and bioinformation services,” says Steve Jones, YBL’s Director and lead instructor.
Building on its desire as a made-in-Manitoba success story and the province’s premier bioinformation services company, Intrinsic Analytics’ Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Jon-Jon Santiago explains how they gave the YBL team access to its testing facilities, from patient intake to laboratory analysis of patient samples.
“Throughout the pandemic, we have been a leader in supporting the provincial response to COVID-19, conducting thousands of tests for local businesses and organizations in order protect their staff and help keep essential services and companies operating safely,” he says. Intrinsic Analytics uses the internationally recognized Health Canada approved RT-PCR technique which provides the most accurate results for lab-based testing of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.
Although the students don’t have access to a sophisticated RT-PCR machine, Santiago and his team worked with Steve’s Youth BIOlab crew to create a kit for students to do hands-on gel electrophoresis analysis of mock patient samples in class and compare their results to real anonymized RT-PCR data from Intrinsic.
“The students were really into it,” says Jones “we were able to combine a virtual field trip from our end with some hands-on science at the school. Being able to tie it in to the pandemic experience, especially with students who might have had a COVID test themselves, was a real opportunity to connect to cutting edge science. Two classes from Green Valley School in Grunthal participated, and we’re looking forward to rolling this out to more schools this year and adding it to our regular rotation.”
“Myself and my partners at Intrinsic Analytics are all science graduates ourselves and we incubated our business idea as grad students working in the labs here at St. Boniface Hospital Research. We have long held a vision that our business services and efforts can also help educate young minds about science, so it was a perfect fit with the Youth BIOlab to talk about COVID-19 testing as a way to promote health and infectious disease understanding in our community,” Santiago further offers.
Since school field trips were no longer possible during the pandemic, the Youth BIOlab team completely re-engineered its youth education programming during the summer of 2020 in order to pivot exclusively to online learning options.
“We built a new website and then created a whole new series of videos available free to anyone via our YouTube channel, as well as offering interactive live-stream classes to our partner schools. We also host weekly Meet a Scientist interviews, talking to the scientists, technicians and post-grad science students who work here at the Research Centre,” Jones shares.