Building a Global Immune Observatory: A Conversation with Michael Mina

In this webinar, Dr. Michael Mina shares his team’s efforts to overcome challenges in scaling infectious disease surveillance using serological testing and flexible automation.

In our increasingly connected world, infectious disease outbreaks have become all too common and costly. Quick identification of the next outbreak will require a new public health effort to surveil infectious diseases, a global immunological observatory.

In this webinar, Dr. Michael Mina, Chief Science Officer at eMed and former Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, shares his team’s efforts to overcome challenges in scaling infectious disease surveillance. The Mina lab leveraged two critical technologies to deliver large-scale throughput and high sensitivity: serological testing with phage immunoprecipitation sequencing (Phip-Seq) and affordable, flexible automation with Opentrons’ OT-2 liquid handler system.

Leveraging serological testing and the proteome

Serological testing of the immune response offers a critical advantage over testing for a pathogen with nucleic acid or antigen tests: a signal that persists for extended periods. With a longer testing window, serological testing greatly increases the chance of detecting cases and greatly reduces the volume of testing necessary for community surveillance. Phip-Seq, developed at Harvard University in 2011, performs serological testing with engineered phages. Libraries of phages are created to express peptides canvasing the full proteome of every putative pathogen. Then, the libraries are applied to blood or saliva samples, and within a short incubation period, any antibodies within the blood from past infections will bind to the phages. By sequencing the captured antibodies, Phip-Seq creates an extensive readout of infection history, akin to hundreds of thousands of ELISAs.

Scaling up with automation

The Mina lab piloted the task of scaling to population level by working with a large U.S. plasma clinic, generating tens of thousands of samples each day. Using the Opentrons’ OT-2 lab robot, they developed a high throughput workflow that processes almost a million specimens in a matter of months with just two laboratory technicians and 20’x 8’ of lab space.

OT-2's in the Mina Lab; image courtesy of Dr. Michael Mina

The combination of OT-2’s flexibility and affordability with Phip-Seq’s scope and efficiency could scale immune surveillance to global reach.

Watch the webinar with Dr. Mina to learn more about how automated serological testing can address global infectious disease surveillance needs .