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Talking Techniques | How PCR has prevailed during the COVID-19 pandemic

Series 2, Episode 4
COVID-19 diagnostics and detection miniseries: Part 3

In Part 3 of our COVID-19 diagnostics and detection miniseries, supported by Roche, we explore the contribution PCR has made towards diagnosis during the pandemic. Providing me with an insight into the world of PCR diagnostics is Tyler Miller, Clinical Pathology Resident and Research Fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital (MA, USA), where he was instrumental in setting up the testing regimen for the Hospital.

Ty details the attributes of PCR that lead to it becoming the gold standard for diagnostic tests, before explaining the variance in clinical detection rate during a patient’s disease course and how this variation correlates with the infectivity of the patient. Ty also delves into the variety of sample collection methods available, how each of these methods compares in terms of sensitivity and their ability to be integrated into exciting novel PCR techniques.

We also look at the work of the Broad Institute in establishing a mass testing effort that involved automation, workflow optimization and hundreds of new staff, ultimately leading to the delivery of 100,000 tests a day, almost 5% of the USA’s total COVID-19 testing at the time. All of this rapid work has led to dramatic changes in the PCR technique and process. These changes are perhaps exemplified by PCR testing without RNA extraction and purification, which Ty explains was partly developed due to the limited supplies available to researchers at the beginning of the pandemic.



  • Introduction: 00:00-02:00
  • Why PCR tests are so valuable: 02:00-03:10
  • Changes in clinical detection rate and infectivity: 03:10-8:00
  • Infectivity and exceptions to the rule: 08:00-09:00
  • Sample collection methods, sensitivity and encouraging testing uptake 09:00-17:00
  • The Broad Institute’s mass testing regimen: 17:00-21:00
  • Developments during the pandemic and no RNA extraction PCR: 21:00-27:00
  • Dreams for improving COVID-19 testing: 27:00- 30:00

This episode was supported by Roche sequencing and life science. Follow these links to find out more about the LightCycler 480 System and LightCycler 96 System.