Originating in Wuhan, China, SARS-CoV-2 (or COVID-19) has blazed a trail across the globe, leaving a little under four million people ill in its wake. From China to Italy and now to the United States, COVID-19 epicenters remain overrun with ailing patients and panic. One of the main reasons why this pandemic strikes such fear into people around the globe is because there is so much unknown. Simply put, we don’t have much statistical knowledge about COVID-19 due to its ability to prowl under the surface, lying dormant, for longer than two weeks. We don’t know precisely how many are infected, we don’t know who—friends, family, neighbors—might have the virus, and the fact remains that COVID-19 testing has proven to be a daunting and time consuming task, especially with many testing centers being swamped with too many assays to run at any given time.
However, in our very own Baylor community, steps are being taken to alleviate and assist with efforts to contain and diagnose the coronavirus. Dr. Elizabeth Forrester and Dr. Dawn Richards are both teachers at Baylor, and after seeing the ever-increasing need for a reliable protocol for detecting SARS-CoV-2, they’ve been working around the clock to create just that: a quicker and more efficient way to test people for COVID-19. Using the resources that the Baylor research lab has, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Richards have been able to use their knowledge and expertise to ease the strain on local healthcare workers and all those fighting to help save lives in this tumultuous season by allowing for expanded testing capabilities.
This protocol works by using a reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (rRTPCR) to amplify a genetic signature of the virus, 2019-nCoV. Using a variety of reagents and machines, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Richards are able to run this rapid protocol, effectively cutting down the wait time for COVID-19 test results from days to a mere four hours. As a result, more people will be able to be tested— up to 400 people per day, in fact. With the formulation of this new protocol, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Richards hope to expedite the testing process and turn the tide in the face of the growing pandemic.
What these Baylor teachers have done is no small feat, and others have noticed as well. U.S. Representative Chuck Fleischmann of Tennessee has been a prominent supporter for the work our teachers have done, voicing his gratitude and pride for the way Baylor has begun to step up and serve the greater community’s public health. Even within our own school, Dr. Forrester and Dr. Richards’s dedication and innovation remains a source of inspiration for students. I, along with other research students, have continued to be amazed by how our very own mentors are utilizing the resources we are so fortunate to have at Baylor in order to help not only our school community, but the world community, especially at a time when help is most desperately needed. It’s amazing to know that the very same machines my fellow researchers and I used when running our own RT-qPCR assays less than a month ago are now being used for work that could potentially save lives during this pandemic. It is truly inspiring to see our faculty take full advantage of the extraordinary technology Baylor’s been blessed with in order to heal those in need.
*Please note that because the COVID-19 pandemic a fluid situation, the information found in this article is subject to change.