From developing diagnostic tests to conducting surveys of infection prevalence, campus researchers are doing what they can in response to the COVID-19 pandemic

Tim Stephens | UCSC | April 01, 2020

The UC Santa Cruz campus has been eerily quiet since stay-at-home orders went into effect to limit the spread of the coronavirus causing the COVID-19 pandemic. Faculty are adapting to teaching classes online, and research labs have had to shut down much of their work.

Nevertheless, many UCSC researchers are finding ways to apply their expertise to help combat the pandemic.

“We scientists have a hard time sitting at home twiddling our thumbs. We have the tools and technology, and we want to try and help,” said Rebecca DuBois, an assistant professor of biomolecular engineering with expertise in virology and vaccine development.

One of the biggest challenges in the United States has been the limited capacity for diagnostic testing to determine who is infected with the virus. Several campus labs have the technical capacity to do these tests, but not the regulatory approval needed to offer diagnostic tests for clinical use. Faculty with expertise in this area have been working with the Office of Research to figure out how they can best deploy their resources within the regulatory limits to help the campus and local community.

“This is well within our wheelhouse. We have all the instrumentation and the people we need to do it,” said Jeremy Sanford, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology.

Sanford, together with Professor of Chemistry and Biochemistry Michael Stone, Assistant Professor of MCD Biology Olena Vaske, and a team of other UCSC faculty, students, and staff, are working to establish a diagnostic testing lab at UCSC as quickly as possible to serve the immediate needs of the community during the pandemic. The team is currently working on receiving the necessary regulatory approvals. If successful, the UCSC testing lab has the potential to be the only facility capable of testing samples locally and turning around the results promptly, aiming for a turnaround time of within 24 hours.


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