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Oklahoma State University

Innovative partnership creates COVID-19 diagnostic lab at Oklahoma State University

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Dr. Anil Kaul, left, clincial professor and director of global health at the OSU Center for Health Sciences, and OSU Vice President for Research Dr. Kenneth Sewell stand inside the “clean lab” during testing for COVID-19 at a diagnostic laboratory April 4, 2020 on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater. The laboratory is equipped with five real-time PCR machines capable of analyzing genetic samples from patients to test for COVID-19.

An innovative collaboration and herculean effort between two campuses at Oklahoma State University (OSU) is allowing the institution to play a key role in the state’s fight against COVID-19.

As university leaders considered how to best use its resources to serve the state, a partnership between the main Stillwater campus and OSU Medicine in Tulsa emerged. FDA-approved machines to run the test analysis for COVID-19 were identified at a lab on the Stillwater campus – which would address the state’s limited testing capacity. Historically a lab used for diagnosing diseases and detecting outbreaks in animals since 1975, the OSU Diagnostic Laboratory quickly earned CLIA certification to conduct human diagnostic testing.

Dr. Kenneth Sewell, OSU vice president for research, said the collaboration and can-do spirit that created the lab has been impressive.

“We were fortunate that we had equipment already up and running that works with this particular test, and we had the ability to marshal forces during a stressful time,” he said. “We have a flexible mindset – when we have a problem to solve, we solve it,” he said.

Johnny Stephens, chief operating officer and senior vice president of OSU Medicine, is proud of the seamless partnership between the campuses.

“OSU’s research and medical campuses came together to activate a lab capable of testing more than 2,000 samples a day. We’re honored to help the entire state through our combined resources.”

In a matter of days, 10,000 test kits were ordered. Samples were verified on five Thermo Fisher diagnostic machines. Three more machines were ordered. Forms and administrative processes were designed, couriers identified, a web page launched and a business office created to answer the flood of calls from health care providers. 

A lab technician rushes a tray of genetic samples from patients which will be loaded into a real-time PCR machine for analysis inside a diagnostic laboratory on the campus of Oklahoma State University in Stillwater, Okla. on April 4, 2020. The lab is one of a few in the state equipped to test for COVID-19.Just twelve days after the decision was made to set up the COVID-19 lab, OSU technicians processed the first 53 specimens. Three days later, health care providers were submitting more than 1,000 specimens a day. Additional qualified lab personnel have been identified, many volunteering to serve from OSU research labs across campus. Fully operational, the lab could shift to around-the-clock functionality, analyzing more than 2,000 specimens a day.

The lab is providing answers for sick patients and exhausted health care providers, with results being returned in 1-2 business days, most within 24 hours. More importantly, the lab has the potential to impact the trajectory of the disease in Oklahoma, making a difference that will be difficult to quantify.

“Increased testing will give public health officials a more accurate and realistic picture of COVID-19 in Oklahoma. Until now, the state has only had the capacity to deal with the situation on the level of the patient,” Sewell said. “We have to get to the next level of mapping the spread of the disease. That’s how you flatten the curve.”

PHOTOS: https://www.flickr.com/gp/ostatenews/08853a

MEDIA CONTACT: Shannon Rigsby | Public Information Officer | shannon.rigsby@okstate.edu | 405-744-9081

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