OKLAHOMA CITY – Although testing kits for COVID-19 remain in short supply, OU Medicine and its academic partner, the OU Health Sciences Center, along with the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation, have launched a multifaceted strategy to begin testing samples on campus as soon as possible.
Thus far, OU Medicine has relied on the Oklahoma State Department of Health and national laboratories for all testing because testing kits are scarce and the supply chain backlogged. Those options are taking longer because more patients are seeking or needing testing; the turnaround for results is now three or more days. However, if supplies, such as nasal swabs and chemical reagents, become available, OU Medicine is prepped and ready to begin in-house testing, and could eventually test hundreds of samples a day.
“OU Medicine already has two testing platforms that have received emergency authorization to conduct testing on COVID-19 samples,” said Michael L. Talbert, M.D., Chief of Pathology Services for OU Medicine. “OU Medicine laboratories are CLIA-certified, meaning we have undergone the rigorous certification process necessary to conduct tests on human samples. We are in dire need of testing supplies, but once we receive them, we can begin testing samples within three to five days.”
OU Medicine’s strategy involves immediate, intermediate and longer-term plans, as well as creating new options for testing by using instruments that typically would be used in research settings.
Immediate plans include running tests on the two existing platforms once supplies arrive. Emergency authorization should be granted soon for two other existing instruments, and OU Medicine plans to obtain an additional unit of one of the instruments. Combined, those four platforms could perform approximately 1,200 tests each day.
For its intermediate strategy, OU Medicine has ordered a new testing platform, and all necessary supplies, that could perform approximately 300 tests per day. This particular instrument is in high demand, Talbert said, but he hopes it will arrive within the next few weeks.
The longer-term strategy includes potentially acquiring another new testing platform that offers the ability to conduct testing at a faster pace; in this case, 384 tests every eight hours.
“Between our existing platforms and our efforts to acquire new equipment, we are prepared to begin testing once supplies become available,” Talbert said. “OU Medicine also brings a cadre of experienced personnel who are ready to begin running samples. It is crucial that we increase local testing soon to identify patients with the virus and clear people who can then not be quarantined. We also need to test more of our healthcare workers who may have been exposed so they can safely care for our patients without the risk of infecting them or other healthcare workers.”
OU Medicine is also collaborating with its academic partner, the OU Health Sciences Center, and neighboring Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation (OMRF) to create and validate its own COVID-19 tests, using instruments that typically have been used for research projects. The OU Health Sciences Center has a Research Core, a large facility that houses many pieces of specialized equipment, as does OMRF. Instruments from both core labs will be used to demonstrate that newly created methods of testing work. If that effort is successful, OMRF brings expertise and experience in another innovative, high-capacity testing platform that could potentially conduct several thousand tests per day once it is fully operational.
“As part of an academic healthcare system, we bring many resources to bear during this pandemic,” said James J. Tomasek, Ph.D., Vice President for Research at the OU Health Sciences Center. “By repurposing high-efficiency instrumentation that has been supporting research projects, and with the valuable contributions of our research scientists and scientists at OMRF, we have the opportunity to contribute to a major increase in testing capability.”