September 18, 2020

The Molecular Infectious Disease Lab team earns spotlight for work on COVID-19 diagnostic testing

The first suspected case of COVID-19 was detected in Tennessee March 5. Within four days, the lab team identified a testing platform, obtained reagents and developed and validated the test.
By the end of the first 10 days, more than 3,300 tests had been completed.

Group Molecular Infectious Disease Lab for the TEAM Award

Photo by Susan Urmy

The Molecular Infectious Disease Lab at Vanderbilt University Medical Center was honored with an Elevate Team Award during VUMC’s Aug. 12 virtual Leadership Assembly for developing and implementing a COVID-19 diagnostic test within four days after the first suspected case was detected in Tennessee.

Although beset by initial shortages of reagents, instrumentation issues and workforce challenges, “the team kept a good attitude,” VUMC’s Executive Medical Director of the Clinical Laboratories and Vice Chair for Clinical Pathology Adam Seegmiller, MD, PhD, said in a video about the award. “They persevered.”

Tennessee had limited testing capacity for COVID-19 when the first nasopharyngeal swab from a potentially infected person was collected on March 5. Immediately the Molecular Infectious Disease Lab (MIDL) swung into action. The lab identified a testing platform, obtained reagents and developed and validated the test by March 9.

Initially the goal was to test 80 to 100 samples a day. As the pandemic roared into Middle Tennessee, however, team members worked around the clock to meet the skyrocketing demand for testing. They revised workflows, trained additional staff, added instrumentation and validated and incorporated automation testing.

By the end of the first 10 days, more than 3,300 tests had been completed. To date the lab has tested approximately 80,000 samples — nearly 1,600 in a single day, said Diagnostic Lab Team Leader Criziel Quinn, MT, MB.

Rapid determination of which patients are negative for the coronavirus enabled the Medical Center to conserve personal protective equipment and restart elective procedures, Quinn added.

All the while the lab continued to ensure that tests coming in from all over the medical center were turned out rapidly, accurately and with appropriate clinical context, said MIDL Medical Director Jonathan Schmitz, PhD, MD.

“I’m incredibly proud to work with you,” Schmitz told his team. “We’re going to keep on doing what we have to do and keep on fighting until this pandemic is over.”

“I’ve told them personally they are some of the most important people in the world now,” said C. Wright Pinson, MD, MBA, Deputy CEO and Chief Health System Officer, in announcing the award.

Team members include: MIDL Manager Sue Sefers, lab scientists Alison Benton, Amy Biagini, Lauren Brabston, Anthonny Dapin, Jeremy Friesen, Sharon Glover, William Henderson, Jennifer Little, Mitch Merryman, Kelly Peterson, Lynna Rawlings, Matthew Rodgers and Cara Schroeder, and lab technician Kelly Peterson.

If you are a VUMC employee, you can nominate a colleague for an Elevate Credo Award, Five Pillar Leader Award, or Team Award. Visit the Elevate website to fill out a nomination form. Employees demonstrate credo behaviors when: they make those they serve the highest priority; respect privacy and confidentiality; communicate effectively; conduct themselves professionally; have a sense of ownership; and are committed to their colleagues. Elevate award nominations are accepted year-round. If a nomination is received after the cut off for an award selection period, the nomination will be considered for the next period. VUMC Voice will post stories on each of the award winners in the weeks following their announcement.