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OU Medicine to develop novel testing platforms for COVID-19 while waiting to receive test kits

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The OU Medicine laboratory is ready to do COVID-19 testing as soon as it can get test kits, according to an OU Medicine video sent out March 23. 

OU Health Sciences Center Vice President of Research James Tomasek said in the video the OU Medicine lab has requested three different kinds of COVID-19 test kits, which are created by vendors. 

“The problem is the vendors are not geared up to produce the numbers we need across the nation,” Tomasek said. “Right now, those kits are going to places that have the highest COVID-19 infection rates, so we are in the queue to get the kits.” 

Tomasek said the OU Medicine lab is certified by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments, which means it’s certified to do various kinds of clinical testing, including COVID-19 testing. OU Medicine employees are unsure when the kits will arrive, Tomasek said, but the laboratory will be able to do approximately 1,600 tests per day once all three kit types arrive. 

“Besides just being dependent on getting these kits, we are working on other platforms, so we can have other ways in which to do testing,” Tomasek said. “The laboratory itself has ordered some other machines, so that they can do other types of platforms for testing.” 

The OU Medicine labs are waiting for the machines needed for these platforms, as they are in high demand as well, Tomasek said. 

“That (wait time) is part of the reason why we’re trying to develop our own unique platforms, so we can try to use components that not everybody else is using, so we hopefully won’t hit that bottleneck,” Tomasek said. 

He said researchers at the OU Health Sciences Center are collaborating with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation on two novel platforms — one should be ready within two to three weeks and will be able to run about 400 tests a day. He said the other platform would also probably take about two to three weeks to develop, and once ready, could do about 300 to 3,000 tests per day. 

Tomasek said patients tested for coronavirus will get nasal and throat swabs, and these samples will be sent to the OU Medicine and Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation labs for assay testing, which analyzes the samples to determine the presence and amount of COVID-19. 

“Once we’ve got the platforms developed, we’ll move them into our CLIA-certified labs,” Tomasek said. “We’ll help provide equipment and technicians to run the assays so we can get them geared up as much as possible in the OU Medicine lab and the (Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation) CLIA-certified lab.” 

Tomasek said clinics around the state are doing testing, but those tests are being sent to various out-of-state labs or to the Oklahoma State Health Department labs. Right now, researchers at the OU Medical labs aren’t doing any assay testing, but Tomasek said he hopes those labs will start large-scale assay testing in the next few weeks.

He said the development of novel platforms for coronavirus testing would mean shorter wait times for test results. 

“We’d be able to turn it around much more quickly because we wouldn’t have to ship it off somewhere and then wait in the queue where a lot of people are using these testing labs,” Tomasek said. 

Within the next three weeks, Tomasek said the OU Medical labs should have at least one or two platforms ready and hopefully have some test kits available, too. He also said OU Medicine has two new projects to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, which include work with companies. 

Tomasek said everyone should practice social distancing and complying with the Centers for Disease Control’s hygiene recommendations. 

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