Clinical Microbiology and Infection

Sample pooling: burden or solution?

Nadja Grobe, Alhaji Cherif, Xiaoling Wang, Zijun Dong, Peter Kotanko

Background: Pool-testing strategies combine samples from multiple people and test them as a group. A pool-testing approach may shorten the screening time and increase the test rate during times of limited test availability and inadequate reporting speed. Pool testing has been effectively used for a wide variety of infectious disease screening settings. Historically, it originated from serological testing in syphilis. During the current coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, pool testing is considered across the globe to inform opening strategies and to monitor infection rates after the implementation of interventions.

Aims: This narrative review aims to provide a comprehensive overview of the global efforts to implement pool testing, specifically for COVID-19 screening. Sources: Data were retrieved from a detailed search for peer-reviewed articles and preprint reports using Medline/PubMed, medRxiv, Web of Science, and Google up to 21st March 2021, using search terms "pool testing", "viral", "serum", "SARS-CoV-2" and "COVID-19".

Content: This review summarizes the history and theory of pool testing. We identified numerous peer-reviewed articles that describe specific details and practical implementation of pool testing. Successful examples as well as limitations of pool testing, in general and specifically related to the detection of severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) RNA and antibodies, are reviewed. While promising, significant operational, pre-analytical, logistical, and economic challenges need to be overcome to advance pool testing.

Implications: The theory of pool testing is well understood and numerous successful examples from the past are available. Operationalization of pool testing requires sophisticated processes that can be adapted to the local medical circumstances. Special attention needs to be paid to sample collection, sample pooling, and strategies to avoid re-sampling.

About the Contributors

Nadja Grobe, MS, PhD

Supervisor, Laboratory Research

Nadja received her MS and PhD in biochemistry from the Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg, Germany. Prior to joining RRI in 2017, she gained more than 10 years of experience in guiding and implementing chemistry, biochemistry, and biomedical-focused research teams in nonprofit, academia, and government. Her previous research has been funded by the American Heart Association, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Society of Nephrology.

Xiaoling Wang, PhD

Senior Research Scientist

Xiaoling joined RRI in 2019. She received her PhD in biochemistry and structural biology  at Stony Brook University. Prior to joining RRI, she had years of postdoctoral experiences at Rockefeller University studying transcriptional regulation in vitro and in vivo. Xiaoling brings her extensive biochemistry, molecular and cell biology experiences to RRI.

Dr. Peter Kotanko, MD

RRI Research Director

SVP, Corporate Research & Development

Peter Kotanko, MD, is Research Director at the Renal Research Institute (RRI), New York. Prior to joining RRI, from 1997 to 2007 he served as vice chair of a department of internal medicine at an academic teaching hospital in Graz, Austria. Prior to moving to Graz in 1989, he worked from 1982 to 1989 in the Department of Physiology and the University Clinic of Internal Medicine in Innsbruck, Austria. From 1995 to 1996 he trained in nephrology at the Hammersmith Hospital, London, United Kingdom.