On Feb. 8 (Monday), the Columbia VA Health Care System and the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Columbia (SOM) announced their partnership to begin conducting COVID-19 testing for students, employees, and Veterans.
The Columbia VA collaborated with UofSC to leverage and convert its joint research lab into a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA) compliant laboratory to conduct COVID-19 tests. By repurposing a robotic-based polymerase chain reaction (PCR) analyzer – previously purchased with a VA research grant – the SOM will be able to conduct high-volume COVID-19 testing.
The robotic system will process up to 400 samples per day and allow for rapid turnaround of results as soon as 24 hours after collection.
“We are proud to be one of the first VA medical centers to support a large university and core academic affiliate with their student COVID-19 testing,” said David Omura, medical center director and chief executive officer for the Columbia VA. “In times like these, it is more important than ever to think outside the box. The repurposing of the lab equipment will allow UofSC to conduct needed COVID-19 testing for their students and staff, but also will enhance the testing capacity for our Veterans.”
“With decades of partnership in education, clinical care and research, the Columbia VA Medical Center and the UofSC School of Medicine Columbia were well-positioned to collaborate,” said Dr. Les Hall, dean of the UofSC School of Medicine Columbia. “Working together, both the VA Medical System and the University of South Carolina will be better prepared to offer the safest possible care and learning environments for those we serve.”
Testing will be done in a multi-phased approach, which began Feb. 8 with the testing of UofSC students, faculty and staff as Phase I. Phase II will supplement the Columbia VA’s existing testing capabilities by performing additional veteran COVID-19 testing, which will begin later this year.
The robotic PCR equipment is housed in a joint research lab located in the VA Research Facility on the Columbia VA’s campus. This platform is more automated than other types of PCR equipment, cutting down on the number of tasks in which laboratory personnel need to physically touch patient samples. Additionally, the reagent necessary to perform the testing is non-proprietary to a PCR platform, which does not limit supplies to a specific brand.
Through this partnership, the Columbia VA and SOM have been able to dramatically decrease the cost of testing when compared to costs for testing performed by community or private facilities.
UofSC SOM will collect, process and test COVID-19 samples as well as generate an electronic report for COVID-19 testing of UofSC students, faculty and staff. UofSC Student Health Services will report the results to students, faculty and staff and to the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control. The Columbia VA’s Pathology and Laboratory Service will provide oversight of the testing process and ensure testing is fully compliant with VA standards and CLIA requirements.
“As a Veteran myself, I am proud that the Columbia VA and University of South Carolina have partnered for this great initiative that will benefit our student and Veteran community,” said Bob Caslen, president of the University of South Carolina. “Throughout my career, I have seen firsthand that we can always accomplish more by collaborating and working together. This partnership exemplifies what is possible when two institutions come together with an innovative way to increase COVID testing capacity.”