DAVIS, Calif. (KTXL) — Gov. Gavin Newsom has named University of California, Davis Health as one of the state’s partners in establishing regional testing hubs for the COVID-19 virus.
A big reason behind the governor’s decision is an automated lab machine UC Davis acquired months before the outbreak took root in the region. The SUV-sized device uses automation to analyze lab samples that every hospital needs to treat patients.
Seventy percent of medical decisions are based on lab tests.
“So the information that we provide is really central to patient care, to guiding treatment decisions,” said Dr. Lydia Howell, professor and chair of UC Davis’ Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine.
The machine, which uses automated robotics, has now been configured to test for the novel coronavirus. It was delivered in December before the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S.
“It was kind of our Christmas present but we didn’t anticipate that it was going to be used for this,” Dr. Howell said.
The Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine did not acquire the complex machine to test for the COVID-19 virus but in an emergency, it was not a stretch to expand its uses.
UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento had what was likely the first reported community-transmitted COVID-19 patient and got a Food and Drug Administration waiver to develop its own testing protocol.
Right off the bat, the lab anticipated that nationwide testing would be slow.
“We knew going in that reagent supplies were going to be very shorted, as well as the instruments,” said Pathology and Laboratory Medicine professor Dr. Nam Tran. “So we know we would have to move with the flow for what the demand was and also scale.”
The lab went from testing 20 samples a day with same-day results using an older machine to 400 a day. Now, the potential is even greater.
“Test up to a thousand a day with a robot, that’s our end game,” Dr. Tran said.
Armed with doctors, researchers and technology, UC Davis Health is in a good position to work on cures and vaccines that may get the upper hand on the deadly virus.
“Because we are saving specimens, because we are documenting what we see, we’re able to take this knowledge and go forward and study for the future,” Howell explained.