Scientists produce solution needed for COVID-19 testing

A team of scientists, pathologists and lab technicians from Marshall University and Mountain Health Network are helping West Virginia address a limited supply of the solution used to transport testing swabs for the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) by making the mixture in one of the university’s labs.

The clear viral transport medium (VTM), composed of specialized reagents, keeps a virus viable on the nasopharyngeal swab for transport until testing is performed.

The VTM for COVID-19 is similar to the testing medium the lab makes for ChemoID®, a patented chemotherapy-sensitivity test developed by former Marshall researcher Pier Paolo Claudio, M.D., Ph.D., and Jagan Valluri, Ph.D., professor of cellular biology and integrative medicine in the Marshall University College of Science.

"With a growing demand for viral transport media across the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made the VTM specifications available for laboratories so that testing for COVID-19 would not be halted," said Krista L. Denning, M.D., interim chair of pathology at the Marshall University Joan C. Edwards School of Medicine and medical director of the laboratory at Cabell Huntington Hospital. "Our experience with ChemoID has made this a very seamless process."

The lab can produce thousands of vials of the VTM per week, based on demand and availability of supplies. Last week, it began the process of distributing the VTM as needed to the West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources, local health departments and local hospitals, including Mountain Health Network’s Cabell Huntington Hospital and St. Mary’s Medical Center.

"Providing viral transport media is one way that we are committed to improving our state’s testing capabilities," said Traci Schauer, microbiology section chief at Cabell Huntington Hospital’s laboratory.