Skip to main content

University of Maryland School of Medicine Launches New Large Scale COVID-19 Testing Initiative

April 10, 2020 | Joanne Morrison

Enhanced Testing Capability Could Help Ensure Sustained COVID-19 Surveillance Across the State of Maryland After Lifting of Restrictions

E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBAUniversity of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) Dean E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, announced today the launch of a large-scale COVID-19 Testing Initiative that will significantly expand testing capability over the coming weeks, enabled by new funding of $2.5 million from the State of Maryland.

The new initiative will be launched with strong support and collaboration from the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and its President, Bruce Jarrell, MD, who has been supportive of the program since its inception.  At the UMSOM, this initiative will be led by Claire Fraser, PhD, the Dean’s Endowed Professor and Director of the Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS) at UMSOM, and Sanford Stass, MD, Professor and Chair of both the UMSOM Department of Pathology and Department of Medical and Research Technology.  This large-scale Testing Initiative will be progressively ramped up to eventually be able to run as many as 20,000 tests per day within the next few months.  This will allow for far wider access to testing in Maryland through coordination with the City of Baltimore and the State Health Department.

Governor Larry Hogan"Our state is continuing to marshal every tool in the arsenal of public health to combat the spread of this virus, including the expertise of our university system," said Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. "Increasing our testing capability is critical moving forward, and I want to thank the Institute for Genome Sciences and the Department of Pathology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine for partnering with us in an effort to significantly expand COVID-19 testing here in Maryland."     

The patient samples will be processed on robotic platforms with automated technologies housed in a laboratory in the UMSOM Institute for Genome Sciences (IGS). The new state funding would allow for the purchasing of additional platforms to facilitate an increase in testing capacity. Analysis of the samples will take place at the University of Maryland Pathology Associates (UMPA), CLIA/CAP accredited, which is operated by the UMSOM Department of Pathology.

Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS"A major impediment we face is not understanding the extent of asymptomatic disease in the Maryland population,” said Dr. Jarrell.  “Having broad access to high-throughput testing will show us where the disease is and how it’s spreading. That’s the guidance we need to control this pandemic more effectively until a vaccine can be developed."

Added Dean Reece, who is also the Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor: “The state is in dire need of increased coronavirus testing, and the School of Medicine already has the early infrastructure in place, in terms of our technology and scientific expertise to help close the testing gap.  This funding provided to us will enable us to better track the spread of the virus and provide swifter diagnoses and treatments to those in need.”

Claire Fraser, PhDWhile 18 laboratory staff are currently needed to process a maximum 3,000 samples per day in the IGS facility, increasing to 20,000 samples per day would involve 60 laboratory personnel working three 8-hour shifts over a 24-hour period.  This ramp up in staffing and sample testing will occur over a few months.

“Initially, we will call in extra technicians who are currently working from home. Ramping up to a full staff will be done over time,” said Dr. Fraser. “I am sure many of our laboratory staff would be eager to return onsite to work for such a worthwhile endeavor.”

Most patients in the State have to wait for a week or more for commercial outfits to return their results due to a backlog of tests and limited capacity and throughput. The facility at UMSOM would be able to return the results to patients and doctors within 24 to 48 hours, dramatically increasing the turnaround time.

Analyzing test samples from patients suspected of having COVID-19 is a complex multi-step process that involves first transferring a portion of the sample to an inactivation solution and extracting its RNA, which contains the virus genetic code. The RNA is then converted to DNA and amplified using the CDC recommended assay. The laboratory at the UMSOM faculty practice site ultimately determines whether the patient’s sample contains the novel coronavirus. Automation of these steps is critical to increasing the laboratory ability to test thousands of samples per day.

Jacques Ravel, PhD“We have now implemented a reconfiguration of the IGS laboratory to establish this high-throughput testing capability,” said Jacques Ravel, PhD, Professor of Microbiology and Immunology and Associate Director of the Institute for Genome Sciences at UMSOM. “Working closely with the oversight of the Department of Pathology, the UMPA laboratory was able to obtain regulatory approval to enable us to process samples to be tested under the supervision of UMPA, a member of the UMSOM faculty practice.”

Mike HumphrysDr. Ravel noted that Mike Humphrys, Director of the Microbiome Service Laboratory (MSL) at IGS, has led this effort, and his past-experience as a CDC laboratory scientist and expertise were key to this effort. The MSL, working with his laboratory team, repurposed and reprogrammed the robotic platforms to handle specific tasks related to COVID-19 testing, a task that they started in late February after it became clear that the virus was spreading beyond China. The machines had previously been used for research studies to characterize the bacteria that compose the human microbiome.

The testing facility at the University of Maryland Pathology Associates has been certified by the federal government to perform laboratory developed tests. These tests, referred to as LDTs, consist of a type of diagnostic test that is designed to be performed and used in a single laboratory, often located in a hospital. For COVID-19 testing, the UMSOM Department of Pathology plans to seek emergency use authorization from the FDA and then will submit submit data to the agency to verify the test’s performance both in detecting true positive results for the virus and true negative results that indicate the virus is not present.

Sanford Stass, MD“We already have the capability to perform testing in patients who are admitted to University of Maryland Medical Center to test for COVID-19, said Dr. Stass. “This new funding initiative, however, will greatly improve our capabilities to reach deeper into the community and help provide expanded testing which is desperately needed to help bring the epidemic under control in the State of Maryland. The enhanced testing capability will also be leveraged in the longer term to ensure sustained COVID-19 surveillance across the State of Maryland.”

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 45 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research.  With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has more than $540 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 student trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion and an economic impact more than $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine faculty, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine, with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu

About the Institute for Genome Sciences

The Institute for Genome Sciences, founded in 2007, is an international research center within the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Comprised of an interdisciplinary, multidepartment team of investigators, the Institute uses the powerful tools of genomics and bioinformatics to understand genome function in health and disease, to study molecular and cellular networks in a variety of model systems, and to generate data and bioinformatics resources of value to the international scientific community.
igs.umaryland.edu

Contact

Office of Public Affairs
655 West Baltimore Street
Bressler Research Building 14-002
Baltimore, Maryland 21201-1559

Contact Media Relations
(410) 706-5260

Joanne Morrison
Director of Marketing and Public Relations
Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health
University of Maryland School of Medicine
jmorrison@som.umaryland.edu
Office: (410) 706-2884
Mobile: (202) 841-3369

Related stories

    Tuesday, June 16, 2020

    UM School of Medicine Researchers Receive Federal Funding to Rapidly Test New Treatments for COVID-19

    Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) will be partnering on an agreement funded by the federal government’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to rapidly test hundreds of drugs, approved and marketed for other conditions, to see whether any can be repurposed to prevent or treat COVID-19. The compounds will be tested in studies using state-of-the-art technologies in the laboratory of coronavirus researcher Matthew Frieman, PhD., Associate Professor of Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. UMSOM will receive up to $3.6 million over the next year to fund this effort.


    Tuesday, June 02, 2020

    UM School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology Awarded Grants to Strengthen COVID-19 Response in Sub-Saharan Africa

    The Center for International Health, Education and Biosecurity (Ciheb) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Institute of Human Virology was awarded $4 million from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to support coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) response activities in Botswana, Nigeria, Malawi, and Mozambique.


    Monday, June 01, 2020

    In A COVID-19 World, Another Threat to the Health of Our Children

    In the U.S., our children rarely fall ill to grave infections because they are protected by vaccines. Serious illnesses like measles, mumps, congenital rubella syndrome, chickenpox, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, rotavirus diarrhea, hepatitis (A and B), polio and bacterial meningitis are all preventable through routine childhood vaccinations.


    Thursday, May 28, 2020

    UM School of Medicine Researchers Develop Experimental Rapid COVID-19 Test Using Innovative Nanoparticle Technique

    Scientists from the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) developed an experimental diagnostic test for COVID-19 that can visually detect the presence of the virus in 10 minutes. It uses a simple assay containing plasmonic gold nanoparticles to detect a color change when the virus is present. The test does not require the use of any advanced laboratory techniques, such as those commonly used to amplify DNA, for analysis. The authors published their work last week in the American Chemical Society’s nanotechnology journal ACS Nano.


    Thursday, May 21, 2020

    UM School of Medicine Begins First Innovative Trial of Experimental Stem Cell Therapy to Reduce Deaths in Sickest COVID-19 Patients

    Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have begun testing an experimental stem cell therapy developed by Mesoblast Limited to treat hospitalized COVID-19 patients with moderate to severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) who are on ventilators to help them breathe. The trial, which is being conducted at the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) and additional sites across the U.S, will involve a total of 300 patients randomized to receive either the drug remestemcel-L or a placebo in addition to the recommended standard of care to manage severe COVID-19 infections. The first patient in this national trial was treated at UMMC.


    Tuesday, May 05, 2020

    UM School of Medicine is First in U.S. to Test Unique RNA Vaccine Candidate for COVID-19

    In a significant development in the global effort to discover a safe and effective vaccine for COVID-19, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) became the first in the U.S. to begin testing experimental COVID-19 vaccine candidates developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The research, funded by Pfizer Inc., will study the safety, efficacy, and dosing of an experimental mRNA -based vaccine.


    Thursday, April 23, 2020

    UM School of Medicine Researchers Test Remdesivir as Potential Therapy for COVID-19 Patients

    Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) are testing the effectiveness of the investigational antiviral drug remdesivir in hospitalized adult patients with SARS-CoV-2 (COVID-19). The randomized controlled clinical trial is evaluating the safety and effectiveness of the drug, and it is part of a national study funded by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).


    Wednesday, April 01, 2020

    Important Coronavirus Update from Dean Reece 04-01

    I am sure you are aware of Governor Hogan’s Executive Order that requires all residents of Maryland to stay at home, except for essential activities. The Governor continues to emphasize that we are still just at the beginning of this crisis in Maryland. While the State has been taking the lead with early containment efforts, we are now at a critical point. Each of our actions can lessen the expected surge in cases over the next few weeks.


    Wednesday, March 25, 2020

    Kids & COVID-19 Website Provides Resources for Pediatric Healthcare Providers and Families

    The University of Maryland School of Medicine has launched a special COVID-19 website for pediatric healthcare providers and practices, parents, and children. This resource brings together important research, professional guidance for pediatric practices, and practical tips for parents and caregivers.


    Wednesday, March 25, 2020

    Important Coronavirus Update from Dean Reece

    As we continue to move forward in these challenging times, I would like to bring you a message of encouragement and hope. First and foremost, please be assured and confident that we are, and will continue to do, everything we can to ensure the health and well-being of all within our community. As you will see in this briefing, significant steps are being taken by the State of Maryland, the University of Maryland Medical System and the University of Maryland, Baltimore to ensure that everyone is healthy and safe. We must each do whatever is necessary to ensure that our health comes first.


    Tuesday, February 25, 2020

    Washington Post Visits UM School of Medicine Laboratories, Meets with Scientists About Coronavirus

    Result is front-page feature coverage of UMSOM’s leading work in studying the Virus


    Wednesday, January 29, 2020

    University of Maryland School of Medicine Mobilizes Virus Experts to prepare for Potential Coronavirus Outbreak

    As public health officials around the world are monitoring a new coronavirus strain (2019-nCoV) first identified in the Wuhan City, Hubei Province, China, the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) is mobilizing its physicians and scientists in the UMSOM’s Center for Vaccine Development and Global Health (CVD), and in its Department of Microbiology & Immunology, to study the virus and test potential vaccines and other therapies. In addition, the UMSOM is collaborating with the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) on rapid response and preparedness planning in the event of a growing outbreak.


    Friday, April 14, 2000

    Letter from Dean Reece to FPI Patients

    The COVID-19 pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, from the way we shop and eat to how we connect with family and friends. While the virus itself has had strong and sometimes devastating effects on our community, the fear of its potential impact continues to influence responses and even cripple thoughts and actions.