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‘A continuous effort’: How Temple’s COVID-19 Testing Program was Built

Words by: Edirin Oputu | Photography by: Joseph Labolito

News April 06, 2021

When the spring semester began in January, it was accompanied by the launch of Temple’s COVID-19 testing program: multiple testing sites, the university’s own specially developed testing kits and process, and a designated lab where tests would be screened. 

The result of months of work, the program was a universitywide collaboration involving dozens of members of Temple’s community, from the Lewis Katz School of Medicine to Student and Employee Health Services and Information Technology Services.

The initial plan last March had been to use “off-the-shelf” test kits and technology made by Thermo Fisher Scientific, a leading science and technology firm. But COVID-19 testing materials were in such high demand that the company could not keep up.  

“Many of the manufacturers of equipment had very specific reagents [supplies needed for the test] and test kits that were being used within that equipment,” said John Daly, dean of the Katz School of Medicine. “Consequently they had supply problems. An institution that was relying upon very specific equipment and very specific testing kits had difficulty in obtaining what it needed.”  

Instead Temple began working with another biotechnology company, until a large shipment was delayed in Alaska for more than 10 days. The shipment thawed and the contents were ruined.

“That’s when we decided that we were going to develop an assay [the term used for the process of determining a COVID-19 test result] using off-the-shelf reagents ourselves,” said Glenn Gerhard, chair of the Department of Medical Genetics and Molecular Biochemistry at the Katz School of Medicine and head of the university’s COVID-19 testing lab. “Instead of buying a brand name test, you go generic and make your own. The sequence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been published and there’s several different assays around the world. So we used those as a guide to develop our own in-house protocol.”

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