UND, Altru Health System team up to produce COVID-19 testing medium

Researchers at Altru Health System and the UND School of Medicine & Health Sciences have partnered on the production of a laboratory medium useful for testing COVID-19.

Marijo Roiko, Ph.D., microbiology program director in the Department of Pathology and Laboratory Services for Altru, and UND Department of Biomedical Sciences Associate Professors Catherine Brissette, Ph.D., and Matthew Nilles, Ph.D., have produced a viral transport media (VTM) solution used to maintain the stability of a clinical specimen from the point of collection to laboratory testing.

In laboratory science, VTM is a liquid medium used for collection, transport, maintenance and long-term freezer storage of clinical specimens containing viruses, including COVID-19. The UND-Altru team has produced enough VTM for more than 1,600 COVID-19 tests.

“Across the country, VTM has been in short supply since the COVID-19 outbreak began,” noted Nilles. “However, this partnership between lab scientists at Altru and UND is helping alleviate the shortage in a significant way.”

According to the researchers, the locally produced medium was developed from reagents available in laboratories at the two institutions. The compound was vetted by quality assurance testing at Altru and the North Dakota Public Health Laboratory.

“This medium has supported more than 90 percent of COVID-19 tests conducted in the Altru service area since April 1,” added Roiko. “This has allowed local health care agencies to maintain a steady pace of testing, and additional production of the medium can be ramped up as needed.”

As Roiko put it, although health care providers still need to manage shortages of items like nasal swabs, they are now much less concerned about running out of VTM.

“Altru is very grateful for the partnership,” she said.

“While lab scientists aren’t necessarily on the ‘front line’ of this fight, they’re crucial to helping our nation get through this,” concluded Brissette. “And the more institutions can partner on solutions like this, so much the better—it will save time, money and hopefully lives.”