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Purdue’s Veterinary College Tackles Human COVID-19 Testing

The Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory is planning to turn around samples within one day; the facility’s experience providing infectious disease testing and immunity surveillance for animals in Indiana aided in its ability to assist with COVID-19 testing

Purdue’s Veterinary College Tackles Human COVID-19 Testing
Angie Chan is the supervisor of the Molecular Diagnostic Section of the Animal Diagnostic and Disease Laboratory, which performs the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests on samples received in the lab. Photo: Courtesy John Underwood / Purdue University

Purdue University’s College of Veterinary Medicine will begin using a lab that tests for infectious diseases in animals to conduct COVID-19 testing for humans.

Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory director Dr. Kenitra Hendrix says the lab ran 15,000 tests on animal samples through an automated testing system in 2019. They plan to process 400 human COVID-19 tests a day.

“We have a long history of providing high-volume testing for large populations,” Hendrix says. “And so it was fairly straightforward to translate our expertise over to performing this test on human samples.”

Purdue is partnering with the Indiana State Department of Health and Indiana hospitals.

The Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL) – located in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine – is working with Fort Wayne-based Parkview Health to start conducting COVID-19 tests for human patients. Testing began after the lab received Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification to conduct human diagnostic testing, with Parkview agreeing to provide clinical oversight.

Testing will be expanded in collaboration with other hospitals, with all samples sent directly from partner hospitals to the ADDL. To avoid a testing backlog, hospitals interested in working with the ADDL are required to complete the “Partnership Inquiry” form.

The goal is to turn around results the same day that samples are received in the lab.

The lab was certified in a matter of days after Purdue leaders suggested using the ADDL to conduct tests and address the state’s limited testing capacity and need for resources. State Health Commissioner Kris Box, M.D., FACOG, said in a recent daily briefing with Gov. Eric Holcomb that resources are still limited for COVID-19 testing in Indiana as the number of cases continues to rise.

“The College of Veterinary Medicine has a long history of providing services to protect animal and human health,” said Willie Reed, dean of the College of Veterinary Medicine. “Providing COVID-19 testing is yet another way to support the citizens of Indiana during this unprecedented public health crisis. The project was shepherded by David Broecker of the Purdue Research Foundation and involves several partners including the foundation, the Indiana State Department of Health, Parkview Hospital, the Purdue community.”

Broecker is the chief innovation and collaboration officer for the Purdue Research Foundation.

Dr. Kenitra Hendrix, director of the Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory, says the ADDL had a unique opportunity to assist with COVID-19 testing in Indiana because of the lab’s expertise in providing infectious disease testing and immunity surveillance for animals across the state.

“The ADDL is uniquely positioned to contribute skills and expertise in the detection of pathogens to the fight against COVID-19, while maintaining our diagnostic support of animal health and the safety of the food supply,” Hendrix said.

Hendrix says the samples are being tested using a PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) testing method that the ADDL uses regularly for animal specimens. The ADDL team, working with state health authorities, adjusted its intake and sample processing procedures to gain the necessary certification to use the PCR testing capability on human specimens.

“Our team has worked diligently to prepare to perform this testing,” Hendrix said. “It is rewarding to be able to take on this role in support of the citizens of our state.”

The project is a cross-disciplinary, collaborative effort with the Indiana State Department of Health, the Purdue Research Foundation and the Purdue community.

“Indiana continues to increase our capabilities and preparedness for rapidly testing patients to support our front-line health care workers,” Box said. “We are grateful to Purdue and the ADDL for helping to make testing more available for Hoosiers who are helping others during this pandemic.”

Parkview Health provided clinical expertise on obtaining a CLIA license and setting up the lab for human testing.

“It still takes several days to get results that are sent out to central labs across the country,” said Dr. Michael J. Mirro, chief academic research officer at Parkview Health. “Even the new tests are limited by supply constraints. What Purdue has done is fantastic and shows the ingenuity associated with creative problem solving. Paired with the significant amount of time invested by the Parkview lab team, we believe this will have a positive impact on the state’s testing capacity.”

The ADDL is a Biosafety Level 2 (BSL-2) facility accredited by the American Association of Veterinary Laboratory Diagnosticians (AAVLD). BSL-2 laboratories are used to study moderate-risk infectious agents or toxins.

Hendrix says that additional partnerships with other hospitals in Indiana are possible. More information and a form for potential partners are available at https://purdue.vet/covid19testing.

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