The University of Louvain (UCLouvain) and the European Space Agency (ESA) are joining forces to deploy a mobile laboratory capable of testing front-line screening teams: doctors, nurses, volunteers, police, civil protection actors. First destination: Piedmont, Italy, which has been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus epidemic.
The goal of this humanitarian and technological mission is to increase COVID-19 screening capacity throughout Europe by using a mobile, fast and flexible method.
The advantage of this collaboration is its pooling of UCLouvain expertise in flexible mobile operations with space technologies, to improve the efficiency and precision of action in the field and encourage information sharing, especially the mapping that is crucial to combatting the pandemic.
The ‘B-LiFE’ mobile laboratory was developed by Jean-Luc Gala, head of the UCLouvain applied molecular technologies platform and clinical head at the UCLouvain Saint-Luc University Hospital, and funded by ESA as part of its ESA Space Solutions programme. B-LiFE was used successfully in Guinea in 2014-15 to fight the Ebola virus. It has also proven itself during operations of the federal B-FAST disaster response unit.
What is B-LiFE? A laboratory and control centre, installed in tents, that collects and analyses field samples. It includes satellite antennas for reliable and secure communication between local teams and remote medical care centres as well as real-time epidemiological mapping. According to UCLouvain researcher Roland Gueubel, who is responsible for these developments, ‘The mobile lab relies on several space technologies such as telecommunications, earth observation and navigation satellites.’
In concrete terms, B-LiFE mobile lab operational director Jean-Luc Gala explains ‘The lab is used to collect and test nasopharyngeal samples in order to identify infected and uninfected persons as well as those who have developed an immune response to the virus. The tests will determine who is and is not fit to stay on the front line. The mission is also a golden opportunity to train other scientists to perform rapid and reliable diagnoses.’ The mission’s ESA manager, Arnaud Runge, adds, ‘In addition to the obvious benefits for the populations directly affected, this type of mission is a new illustration of the contributions of space technology to our daily lives.’