DRDO’s new Covid test centre at Leh may address future bio-threats

As fresh cases of COVID-19 continue to emerge, a testing centre for COVID-19 samples has been established at the Defence Institute of High-Altitude Research (DIHAR), Leh.

Apart from a utility during the ongoing pandemic, the infrastructure set up can play a pivotal role in enhancing capability to address future bio-threats and also in research activities pertinent to agro-animal diseases.

The facility was inaugurated by RK Mathur, Lieutenant Governor of Union Territory of Ladakh, on Wednesday. Lauding the efforts put in by the Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) for establishing the centre at DIHAR, Mathur said this would significantly augment the testing capability in Ladakh.

RK Mathur, Lieutenant Governor of Union Territory of Ladakh, inaugurates the testing centre for COVID-19 samples established at the Defence Institute of High-Altitude Research (DIHAR) in Leh on Wednesday
DIHAR is a laboratory under the DRDO based at Leh which is engaged in research on cold arid agro-animal technologies to enhance the production of fresh vegetables and animal-origin food, benefitting not on the armed forces but also the local populace in Ladakh.

Its activities include agro-animal disease investigation and control, up-gradation of native livestock germplasm, semipermafrost-based conservation of elite plant germplasm, nano-materials based technology for improving productivity and developing greenhouse technologies for high altitude and cold desert areas. It is also screening and identifying medicinal and aromatic plants to exploit their use for defence purposes.

Dr OP Chaurasia, director at DIHAR, said: “At present, the facility is capable of screening 50 samples per day which can easily be enhanced with the availability of more trained manpower. Apart from screening, the facility can be utilised for training manpower for COVID testing. Among the different measures, one of the important prerequisites is to efficiently identify the infected individuals followed by isolation and treatment.”

In view of their highly contagious nature, proper handling of live virus in these facilities is of paramount importance for the safety of researcher, health professional and the environment. The centre has been designed to ensure a unidirectional workflow for safety. It has dedicated donning and doffing areas along with two validated bio-safety cabinets for virus RNA isolation and neutralisation.

In accordance with safety standards and advisories issued by the Indian Council of Medical Research, the centre has been equipped with deep freezers, autoclaves for sterilising the bio-waste, automatic disinfectant dispensers and a walk-in cold room for holding human samples.