COVID-19 : B-LiFE (Biological Light Fieldable laboratory for Emergencies)
Space-enabled tests are underway to empower healthcare workers, civil protection volunteers and members of the emergency services to help other people. As the immediate crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic fades in Europe, extensive testing systems are needed to enable the vital economic recovery. 1)
An ESA-backed mobile field laboratory set up at Piedmont is enabling the Italian authorities to test thousands of key workers for COVID-19. Some of the tests carried out there take just a few minutes, instead of a few hours.
Staff use the lab to perform and analyze nasopharyngeal swabs to identify whether or not a person has the coronavirus, as well as to conduct antibody tests to demonstrate whether a person who has been infected has an immune response to the virus.
Figure 1: An ESA-backed mobile field laboratory set up at Piedmont is enabling the Italian authorities to test thousands of key workers for COVID-19. Some of the tests carried out there take just a few minutes, instead of a few hours. Key workers who have a negative antibody test or a positive antibody test followed by a negative swab can then return to work quickly, supporting the economic recovery (image credit: ESA)
- Jean-Luc Gala, director of the Centre for Applied Molecular Technologies at the Université Catholique de Louvain (UCLouvain) in Belgium, developed the lab and is operating it in Piedmont. He says: “In this lab, we can do also molecular testing, to see if the virus is present in patients and to analyze the immunity as well. This is the type of quick answer that we can provide very rapidly.”
Figure 2: A nasal swab is taken from an Italian key worker in Piedmont (image credit: ESA)
Called B-LiFE (Biological Light Fieldable laboratory for Emergencies), the system comprises: tents for the laboratory and command-and-control units; specialized equipment to rapidly analyze samples; an information and management system to collect and store all the results; and dedicated satellite communication systems for reliable and secure communication.
Figure 3: A sample is transferred for COVID-19 testing inside the mobile bio-lab in Piedmont (image credit: ESA)
“The B-LiFE system has unique capabilities thanks to its integration of space assets,” says Roland Gueubel, B-LiFE director at UCLouvain.
“The satellite telecommunications are crucial for the autonomy of the laboratory, for logistics support and for the real-time data transfer to health authorities. Earth observation imagery is a key resource for mapping the crisis area, for situational awareness tools, for the geolocation of sampling and for real-time epidemiological mapping.”
Arnaud Runge, medical engineer overseeing the mission at ESA, says: “B-LiFE has demonstrated that it can bring solutions to crisis situations anywhere in the world, in a very fast and reliable way. Any country could make use of B-LiFE – if you trigger requests, Europe will be able to offer an answer.”
Figure 4: The mobile field laboratory in Piedmont (image credit: ESA)
B-LiFE is certified under the EU’s civil protection mechanism, which aims to enable national authorities to exchange information to identify best practice and work interchangeably in the field when disaster strikes.
B-LiFE was developed as part of ESA’s Space Solutions program, which provides funding and business support to hasten the development of new products and services that use space assets.
Figure 5: While the COVID-19 pandemic is still raging in many countries across the globe, in Europe it seems the first peak has passed. In Italy, which has been struck extremely hard by the pandemic, the local authorities of the Piedmont region have requested the deployment of B-LiFE, a mobile laboratory, in order to test their frontline responders such as healthcare workers, civil protection volunteers and members of the emergency services. The test will show whether they have the coronavirus, and also whether or not those who have been infected have had an immune response to the virus. B-Life is a project that has been developed within the ESA Space Solutions program and shows how space technology benefits people on the ground in times of crisis (video credit: ESA)
1) ”Space-equipped lab tests key workers for COVID-19,” ESA Applications, 30 June 2020, URL: http://www.esa.int/Applications/Telecommunications_Integrated_Applications/Space-equipped_lab_tests_key_workers_for_COVID-19
The information compiled and edited in this article was provided by Herbert J. Kramer from his documentation of: ”Observation of the Earth and Its Environment: Survey of Missions and Sensors” (Springer Verlag) as well as many other sources after the publication of the 4th edition in 2002. - Comments and corrections to this article are always welcome for further updates (firstname.lastname@example.org).