NORMAN, OKLA. – It’s no secret that there is a shortage of kits to test for COVID-19.
One local company, IMMY, develops, manufactures and distributes diagnostic tests for pathogens and has been assisting with COVID-19 testing. IMMY president and CEO Sean Bauman contacted University of Oklahoma researchers for help.
“Sean reached out to me, Jimmy Ballard (professor of microbiology at the OU Health Sciences Center) and others around the state he knew,” said Bradley Stevenson, associate professor of microbiology, OU Norman campus. “They were desperately low on the reagents and kits that are needed to extract the virus’ genetic material from patient samples – the step before the test itself.”
Stevenson said the supply chain for these kits has dried up in the past several weeks, but with non-essential research on campus temporarily suspended, he knew he could find what they needed across campus.
“I reached out to my colleagues and everyone pitched in who could,” Stevenson said.
He then picked up and delivered the supplies to IMMY.
“After talking to Sean and his group (at IMMY), I got a better idea of their Herculean efforts, the importance of getting testing online and the many limitations they were facing,” Stevenson said. “With the supplies and equipment we shared from OU Norman and the OU Health Sciences Center, they were able to develop a successful protocol to extract the viral genetic material.”
By sharing the reagent kits and supplies from OU, within 48 hours IMMY produced a validated testing protocol that increases the amount of COVID-19 testing that can be done within the state.
“Given that Oklahoma is behind the infection curve and reagent kits are uniquely difficult to come by right now, I think that this is a critical effort that will pay off in spades.” However, Stevenson said, “This new approach still relies on components of commercially available kits that are back ordered for the foreseeable future.”
Stevenson and the team at IMMY weren’t satisfied with relying on a solution that requires parts that remain hard to come by.
Stevenson, with graduate students Emily Junkins and James Floyd, began working with IMMY to research alternative approaches.
“My graduate students and I have agreed to help them develop another protocol that uses raw materials that are more widely available,” Stevenson said. “This should allow them to get the resources they need, insulated from shortages of the necessary ‘kits.’”
Stevenson said they are working to develop this solution to be shared widely so that any laboratory that needs to conduct this kind of testing can benefit.
“I am very proud of how the OU community has come together to lend a hand,” Stevenson said. “My graduate students and I are thankful that we can contribute in any way. We extract genetic material from a wide variety of difficult samples, usually in remote field camps with limited capacity. This is what we do and it is nice to be able to apply it here.”
Reporters, additional media, including photos and a video of the liquid-handling robot helping process COVID-19 tests, can be found via Dropbox.