Nuclear-derived techniques to tackle COVID-­19

March 17, 2020, 1:24PMNuclear News

The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to provide diagnostic kits, equipment, and training in nuclear-­derived detection techniques to countries asking for assistance in tackling the worldwide spread of the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-­19 pandemic. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced the plans on March 9 during his first formal address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors (see previous story).

“The IAEA is not a specialized health agency and has no role in controlling the disease,” Grossi said, “but we do have expertise and experience that help in detecting outbreaks of certain viral diseases and in diagnosing them.”

The nuclear-­derived diagnostic technique known as RT-­PCR can help detect and identify the novel coronavirus accurately within hours.Photo: D. Calma/IAEA

The International Atomic Energy Agency plans to provide diagnostic kits, equipment, and training in nuclear-­derived detection techniques to countries asking for assistance in tackling the worldwide spread of the coronavirus that has caused the COVID-­19 pandemic. IAEA Director General Rafael Mariano Grossi announced the plans on March 9 during his first formal address to the IAEA’s Board of Governors (see previous story).

More details about the agency’s planned COVID-­19 technical assistance were provided in a March 9 news release. A diagnostic technique known as real-­time reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-­PCR) can help detect and identify the virus accurately within hours, both in humans and in animals that may also host it. By March 9, assistance had already been requested by 14 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

“The agency takes pride in its ability to respond quickly to crises, as we did in the recent past with the Ebola, Zika, and African Swine Fever viruses,” Grossi told the Board of Governors. “Contributing to international efforts to deal with the coronavirus will remain a priority for me as long as the outbreak persists.”

Nuclear-­derived techniques, such as RT-­PCR, are important tools in the rapid detection and characterization of viruses, like the one causing COVID-­19. “Such tools are the only means to have certainty,” according to IAEA Nuclear Medicine Physician Enrique Estrada Lobato.

The IAEA announced an initial in-­person training course in detection techniques to be held at the Joint IAEA/Food Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) Animal Production and Health Laboratory in Seibersdorf, Austria, in mid-­March—a plan that the spread of the virus throughout Europe has likely halted. Medical and veterinary experts from Cambodia, Republic of Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Ethiopia, Kenya, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mongolia, Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam were set to attend, and more courses were planned for the future.

The IAEA wants to train veterinary experts around the world to increase countries’ preparedness in the early detection of viruses that cause zoonotic diseases—diseases that originate in animals and can then spread to humans. The agency’s proffered training would prepare experts to test domestic and wild animals implicated in the transmission of coronaviruses, such as the new strain SARS-­CoV-­2, which causes COVID-­19, and others that cause Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS).

“If you know what is out there ahead of time, you have time to proactively prepare, either by developing vaccines or increasing your capacity for diagnosis and detection,” explained Gerrit Viljoen,head of the Animal Production and Health Section of the Joint IAEA/FAO Program for Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture.

Participants would be trained in biosafety and biosecurity procedures and would receive emergency toolkits with personal protection equipment, specific diagnostic reagents, and laboratory consumables. Some national laboratories were also to receive biosafety cabinets and RT-­PCR devices.

The assistance to countries in tackling COVID-­19 is delivered through the IAEA’s technical cooperation program, which supports the peaceful application of nuclear technology in areas such as human and animal health. It is funded through the IAEA’sPeaceful Uses Initiative, which was launched in 2010 to mobilize additional funding for such projects.



Related Articles

The male business of nuclear diplomacy

November 30, 2022, 9:30AMANS Nuclear CafeMaria Rentetzi

An unusual event during the recent General Conference of the International Atomic Energy Agency distracted the delegations of member states and the press from the Russian war in Ukraine and...

Nuclear: Building enthusiasm at COP27

November 22, 2022, 12:05PMNuclear News

Nuclear energy is no longer on the fringes of the international climate conversation. At COP27, the United Nations climate change conference held in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, from November 6 to...

Impressions from the IAEA General Conference

November 16, 2022, 9:30AMANS NewsCraig Piercy

There are worse places to be than Vienna, Austria, in the early fall. The place has an old-world vibe for sure. The U-Bahn doesn’t have turnstiles; it runs on the honor system. People take...

Exporting American nuclear excellence

November 15, 2022, 9:30AMNuclear NewsSteven Arndt

As I write, I am reflecting on my time at the International Atomic Energy Agency General Conference, held in Vienna during the last week of September. At the GC, I was able to meet with a...