New facility will allow Virginia Tech researchers to amp-up COVID-19 testing


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Since March, Virginia Tech researchers, students, and lab technicians have been working to fill the COVID-19 testing capacity gap in the region, as well as develop new treatments for the virus.

The Virginia Tech Schiffert Health Center COVID-19 Lab has analyzed 5,532 test samples between April 24 and July 4.

The team transformed laboratories normally meant for biomedical research into high-capacity COVID-19 testing facilities. Their demand and expanded research, though, has led them to consolidate their efforts.

Having previous locations in both Blacksburg and Roanoke, the Virginia Tech COVID-19 Lab has now condensed its operation to a single facility at the Molecular Diagnostics Laboratory at the new Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at the Health Sciences and Technology campus of Virginia Tech Carilion Roanoke.

“It gives us a much larger laboratory so we’ve acquired more instrumentation, robots, and very sophisticated machines,” said Michael Friedlander, Virginia Tech Vice President for Health Sciences and Technology and Executive Director of the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at Virginia Tech Carilion.

Once fully in the new location, researchers anticipate they can complete 1,000 tests per day. Researchers expect to begin testing in the new facility in a couple of weeks.

In addition to testing, researchers are looking at improving the testing process for patients.

“We’re working on a saliva test as well, it will be easier, where you can just give a saliva sample in a cup, and we analyze that and we’re comparing that to the nasal pharyngeal samples to show that they’re just as good,” Friedlander explained.

Researchers are also looking at testing multiple samples at a time. The majority of testing samples have come from the New River Health District and the Roanoke City and Alleghany Health Districts.

“The easier we can make the test sample collection for our colleagues from the health department who are out there collecting the samples and for the patients, the more likely I think we’ll get more patients, more compliance and more people who are willing to be tested,” Friedlander stated.

In addition, researchers in the new building are seeking new ways to treat coronavirus. On Virginia Tech’s main Blacksburg campus, researchers at the College of Veterinary Medicine are working to develop a vaccine.

Currently, those working on the testing are students, lab technicians, and Virginia Tech researchers. The team also includes recently added medically licensed technologists from the community.

There are approximately 20 researchers in total, and Virginia Tech officials say they’re looking to hire a dozen more once the new facility opens. New equipment and more personnel will allow testing to continue for the southwest Virginia community and for Virginia Tech students when they return in late summer.

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