“We have found the support of our state and our colleagues equal to the demand for this test,” says Dr. Ravindra Kolhe, GEM Lab director and vice chair for translational research of the MCG Department of Pathology at Augusta University.
The new test, which is run on a high-throughput instrument to enable high volume and looks at two distinctive genetic markers for COVID-19, has been available since April 2 to those screened primarily through the AU Health System’s frontline community screening initiative and the practices of MCG physicians. While testing requests from other communities started almost immediately, as of Monday, April 6, GEM Lab testing is readily available to health care providers and hospitals across the state. Kolhe can be reached via email.
The support of Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, the University System of Georgia and Chancellor Steve Wrigley as well as colleagues at MCG and the Georgia Institute of Technology, who have loaned much in-demand, real-time PCR instruments essential for viral testing to the GEM Lab, enabled the GEM Lab team to escalate from running 72 tests in a 24-hour cycle to 500 tests daily as of Monday with plans to move to 1,000 tests daily by weeks’ end, Kolhe says.
Real-time polymerase chain reaction, or PCR, instruments, currently on about a six-month backorder, are essential to detecting the presence of viral RNA. The GEM Lab now has operationalized instruments loaned to them by MCG colleagues Dr. Jin-Xiong She, director of the Center for Biotechnology and Genomic Medicine; Dr. Jessica Filosa, neurovascular physiologist in the Department of Physiology; Dr. David Mattson, chair of the Department of Physiology; and Dr. Xingjun Fan, vision scientist in the Department of Cellular Biology and Anatomy.
Dr. Andrés Garcia, executive director of the Parker H. Petit Institute for Bioengineering and Bioscience at Georgia Tech, also loaned the GEM lab a PCR instrument. Drs. Kolhe and Garcia now work together as members of Gov. Kemp’s Coronavirus Task Force on Laboratories.
Increased access to testing and reduced turnaround time for results reduces the exposure risk for many and should enable earlier identification of those who need treatment, Kolhe says.
The more-ready availability of supplies to enable more tests led the GEM Lab team to move to this new test, which works on the Perkin Elmer laboratory platform, Kolhe says, and focuses on two unique genetic markers, ORF1ab and N genes, for the virulent virus. Genetic markers are DNA sequences that are distinctive points of variation that can be used to identify a human or a disease and in this case COVID-19.
The GEM Lab is CLIA-certified, a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services certification, and certified by the state of Georgia for high complexity molecular diagnostic testing. The GEM Lab team also is happy to work with other CLIA-certified labs who want to begin testing, Kolhe adds.
The GEM Lab team includes Dr. Ashis Mondal, lab supervisor; Kimya Jones, lab manager; research associates Sudha Ananth and Yasmeen Jilani; postdocs Drs. Pankaj Ahluwalia, Nikhil Sahajpal and Meenakshi Ahluwalia; and molecular pathology fellow Dr. Allan Njau.