A pair of entrepreneurs in Lake Nona hope to help level the rising tide of the COVID-19 test shortages by creating their own coronavirus test.
As healthcare facilities across the nation scramble to negotiate the coronavirus testing bottleneck, a local laboratory, led by Medical City residents Rick Martin and Grant Weiss, introduced the most accessible and effective sample technique for identifying the SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19) Virus.1
“People across the country are lining up for testing and getting turned away,” says MicroGenDX CEO Rick Martin. “We recognized the need for a highly efficient and accessible sampling method and knew we had the tools to create it.”
This less invasive sample technique is designed to analyze sputum (essentially mucus coughed up from the lungs) against a diagnostic assay using polymerase chain reaction (PCR) at MicroGenDX Laboratories. While other techniques require specific “kits” that are dependent on swabs for collecting samples, the idea to validate a sample collection method, not tied to the supply materials that are in great shortage, would be key in overcoming the bottleneck that is causing the limit of testing. Additionally, sputum samples provide better detection results than nasal or pharyngeal swab samples. Patients may have higher viral shedding patterns at different collection sites, with sputum collection being the most consistent sample method after bronchoalveolar lavage.2
“We are the first commercial laboratory in the country to focus on sputum sample techniques for testing for COVID-19,” explains Weiss. “Joining the effort for reliable COVID-19 testing at this moment gives us a unique vantage point on how to make our test accessible, efficient, and reliable.”
Another roadblock that would put the brakes on for streamlined testing is due to the steady depletion of VTM, or Viral Transport Media. VTM is the fluid that swab samples must be transported in to remain valid for testing. To get around the issue of not having enough access to VTM we needed to develop another path for getting the samples to the laboratory. The MicroGenDX Laboratory team moved very quickly to address this by validating sterile saline as a viable transport media for testing.
“I’m extremely proud of our Laboratory team, its leadership and tireless effort to make certain we had this option for transporting samples,” explains Martin. “Our goal is to remove as many hurdles from people getting answers for this infection, simply due to lack of necessary collection and transport supplies. The abundance and accessibility of sterile saline safeguards our method from future sampling delays.” Tele-health is another top priority for MicroGenDX. MicroGenDX is working hand-in-hand with multiple physicians who will be testing with limited in-person appointments as we are in a time of practicing good “social distancing.” MicroGenDX is carefully reviewing guidelines for patient testing outside of the office and will continue to prepare for supporting COVID-19 testing for telehealth protocols as national guidelines outline the approved processes. Check microgendx.com on telehealth processes in the coming weeks for updates.
“There are people in communities just like ours across the nation that are exhibiting symptoms and simply cannot get tested,” continues Weiss. MicroGenDX will run 4,000 COVID-19 samples a day and hopes to double that number in the coming weeks. Currently, our test results have a turn-around time of 24 hours from the time of sample of receipt.
While the focus of public health is on COVID-19, Martin is adamant that MicroGenDX continue to provide DNA diagnostic data for those with existing infections.
“The current crisis presented by the novel coronavirus must not prevent those with existing chronic infections, such as chronic or recurrent UTIs, sinus infections, or stalled wounds to access the molecular diagnostics necessary for ongoing care. Our mission is to provide physicians with the best diagnostic data that technology has to offer through Next-Generation DNA Sequencing and rapid PCR screening, so they can make informed, clinical decisions for better patient care.”
“We’ve been doing this kind of testing for a long time, more than 13 years. Testing for infections using DNA diagnostic technology is our core business, and we are proud to be able to dedicate resources and expertise to assist in the time of need to add this test to our portfolio.”
About Southwest Regional PCR dba MicroGenDX
MicroGenDX is the global leader in molecular testing services through PCR and Next Generation DNA Sequencing to identify microbes in human samples. We are a state-of-the-art, CAP-accredited, CLIA-licensed Molecular Diagnostic facility backed by a team of molecular biologists, biochemists, bioinformaticians, computer scientists, and physicians. Our advanced instrumentation provides the industry’s most informative microbial diagnostic tests for ENT, orthopedic, urology, wound care, podiatry, and other areas of medicine.
Learn more about coronavirus testing at microgendx.com or email firstname.lastname@example.org. All COVID-19 samples are tested at their Lubbock, TX, location.
1MicroGenDX was validated to run SARSCoV-2 (COVID-19) testing on March 23, 2020, and is listed on the FDA website as a resource laboratory.
2As cited on 2020 JAMA 1. Wang W, Xu Y, Gao R, et al. Detection of SARS-CoV-2 in Different Types of Clinical Specimens. JAMA. Published online March 11, 2020. doi: 10.1001/jama.2020.3786.