COVID-19 testing now taking place in transformed Northwestern lab
Goal is to quadruple number of processed tests at Northwestern Medicine hospitals to 360 per day
Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine has established a special COVID-19 testing team with the goal of at least quadrupling the number of tests processed at Northwestern Medicine hospitals — from about 90 per day to more than 360 per day — and in the process, greatly reducing test result turnaround times.
NUSeq Core Facility, which operates under Northwestern’s Center for Genetic Medicine, responded to the growing testing need by setting up a site to help the health system increase testing capacity and cut turnaround time. The NUSeq site uses the exact same testing protocol that the Northwestern Medicine testing lab developed and is doing it under the supervision of the health system’s clinical lab and U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorization.
For this coordinated operation, NUSeq staff picks up patient samples from the hospital and brings the samples to NUSeq for testing. The results are then sent back to the health system for analysis and reporting.
Six medical school research staff have been trained and are now working in shifts to address the need. The effort is led by Xinkun Wang, director of the NUSeq Core Facility and research associate professor of biochemistry and molecular genetics, and Dr. Elizabeth McNally, director of Northwestern’s Center for Genetic Medicine.
Read more about the effort in this Q&A. Media interested in interview Wang or McNally can contact Kristin Samuelson at (cell) 847-769-6596 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Quote from Wang:
“Not having enough testing capacity for COVID-19 has been a major issue. Hospitals were allowed to build and use their own COVID-19 tests after an FDA announcement on February 29. Northwestern Medicine was able to conduct 90 tests per day but needed to be able to do more tests. Northwestern Medicine established a test for the virus in the second week of March. This test looks for COVID-19 virus by testing for the virus RNA, or genetic material.”
Quote from McNally:
“Northwestern Medicine worked quickly to establish a reliable polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test for COVID-19, but over the weekend of March 14, we became aware how limited the throughput was. Our research staff routinely performs the exact same steps as those used in the COVID-19 virus tests, and our research labs have the necessary machines for this type of analysis. It really became a question of how quickly we could get the proper certifications and training in place. Luckily, we have fantastic research staff who worked seamlessly with the Northwestern Medicine clinical lab to make this all happen. It took a lot of lifting, but it got done and we are now helping reduce the backlog and hopefully will be able to ramp up capacity even more than projected.”