UC Santa Cruz diagnostic lab to begin coronavirus testing May 1

The campus lab will be conducting tests for coronavirus infections for the Student Health Center and local medical providers

scientists working in lab
The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab will begin testing for coronavirus infections May 1. Pictured working in the lab are project scientist Namrita Dhillon (left) and doctoral student Jolene Draper. (Photo by M. Stone)
lab equipment
A new robotic liquid handling instrument for processing samples is enabling the diagnostic lab to increase its testing capacity. (Photo by J. Sanford)

In response to the limited availability of testing to determine if someone is infected with the COVID-19 virus, a team of researchers at UC Santa Cruz has established a diagnostic testing lab on campus. Starting May 1, the UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab will begin doing coronavirus tests for the UCSC Student Health Center and other medical providers in the local community.

The campus will not be operating a testing site for the general public. The campus lab will work with local medical providers to test patient samples, initially partnering with the Student Health Center and Santa Cruz Community Health. The lab received approval last week from the California Department of Public Health as a COVID-19 temporary testing site.

Jeremy Sanford, professor of molecular, cell, and developmental (MCD) biology, said the lab will be able to return results within 24 to 48 hours; this rapid turnaround is essential to patients and the community in order to combat the spread of COVID-19. The lab will eventually have the capacity to test hundreds of samples per day, and the team plans to gradually increase the number of tests performed in order to meet the demand while ensuring a smooth operation.

It’s truly amazing how far we’ve been able to come since we started planning for this in March,” said John MacMillan, associate vice chancellor for research and professor of chemistry and biochemistry at UCSC. “We are having ongoing discussions with the county and local medical providers about how we can help meet their needs for coronavirus testing.”

The testing performed at the UCSC lab detects the genetic material of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19. A positive test means the patient has an active infection.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, medical director of the UCSC Student Health Center, said the campus diagnostic lab will enable the center to increase the number of students they test for the coronavirus.

A significant increase in testing capacity is considered essential to ensure public health and safety once there is a loosening of the current “shelter in place” orders effective in Santa Cruz County and elsewhere in the state.

We’re ready to step up and help meet the need in our community,” Sanford said. “Extra testing capacity is needed now, and will be critical once things start to reopen, and that’s what we’re trying to provide.”

The campus has invested in new equipment for the lab and is hoping to raise outside funds to support its continued operation.

Medical providers interested in more information about the UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Lab can contact the lab at COVID19­Test@ucsc.edu.