UB professors’ initiative will help Kaleida Health increase, speed up COVID-19 testing in Erie County

Release Date: April 2, 2020

Portrait of UB researcher Norma Nowak.
“When fully implemented, it will allow us to triple our testing capacity. ”
John Tomaszewski, SUNY Distinguished Professor
University at Buffalo

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Thanks to the fast action of two University at Buffalo faculty members, Kaleida Health Labs will have two more crucial tools to help it fight the COVID-19 crisis in Erie County.

Last week, John Tomaszewski, MD, SUNY Distinguished Professor and Peter A. Nickerson PhD Professor of Pathology and Anatomical Sciences in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences, and Norma J. Nowak, a professor in the Department of Biochemistry at the Jacobs School, identified two pieces of equipment in the UB Biorepository that they felt could be deployed to Kaleida Health Laboratories on Flint Road in Amherst to assist with the processing of COVID-19 test kits.

The equipment was not in active use due to the current pause in research at UB.

Tomaszewski, who is also Chief of Service at Kaleida Health Laboratories, outlined the developments that led up to the equipment transfer.

In mid-March, the Erie County Department of Health Laboratories received a limited number of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-issued SARS/COV2 test kits. Those tests required an intense manual testing process. The county labs ran out of the necessary reagent after approximately a week of testing, he said.

Then, Kaleida Health Laboratories adapted Abbott Laboratories equipment that had previously been used for clinical trial hepatitis C testing in an academic –health system partnership arrangement between Andy Talal, a UB investigator, and Kaleida Health Laboratories.

Those machines have been used to good effect for COVID-19 test processing for the past 14 days. During most of this time, Tomaszewski said, “Kaleida Health Labs has been the highest volume health system testing facility in Buffalo for SARS/COV2.

Last week, manufacturer Perkin Elmer released an Emergency Use Authorization for its nucleic acid extraction equipment, which would allow the health system to supplement the Kaleida Health COVID-19 testing. UB had two of those machines on hand in the UB biobank at the Clinical and Translational Research Center.

Tomaszewski and Nowak proposed to Venu Govindaraju, UB’s vice president for research and economic development, that UB transfer the machines to the Kaleida lab.

After review by counsel from SUNY and Kaleida, the agreement was signed Monday, and the equipment was moved on Tuesday. By Thursday Kaleida expected to receive reagents needed to perform the tests and will begin validation of a laboratory developed test leveraging its high complexity testing status.

Govindraju said his office “fully supports this transfer, and thinks this is an excellent opportunity for UB to demonstrate its agility and community orientation during times of crisis.”

“This will be huge,” Tomaszewski said. “When fully implemented, it will allow us to triple our testing capacity. This is the university responding to a health care crisis as a true partner.”

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