VCU Health develops in-house test for COVID-19

Hand holding test tubes in lab.
VCU Health is administering an independently developed COVID-19 test for inpatients during a pilot program. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

Virginia Commonwealth University Health System announced today that it is administering an independently developed COVID-19 test for inpatients during a pilot program. The in-house test will significantly reduce wait times for results, and in turn will reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection in the community. Testing during the pilot phase will be mostly available to patients requiring hospitalization who present severe symptoms of COVID-19, and is dependent on supply. 

As COVID-19 cases grow throughout the state, the new test will expand VCU Health’s capacity to promptly confirm and rule out potential COVID-19 diagnoses. VCU Health aims to obtain same-day results with this testing option, dependent on test volume. 

“Being able to determine whether a patient does or does not have COVID-19 quickly is of critical importance,” said Christopher Doern, Ph.D., director of microbiology at VCU Health who oversees the implementation of new technologies in the VCU Health clinical microbiology laboratory. “Being able to do that in our own laboratory will be a game changer in how we manage patients with potential COVID-19 symptoms.”

Doern stands in laboratory.
Christopher Doern, director of microbiology at VCU Health, oversees the implementation of new technologies in the VCU Health clinical microbiology laboratory. (Tom Kojcsich, University Marketing)

While materials and reagents necessary for the test remain limited nationwide, VCU Health's in-house test will primarily be given to patients with a strong suspicion of threatening COVID-19 infection. The expedited testing allows providers to more efficiently and effectively determine patients’ courses of treatment, and appropriately allocate resources to care for them.

“The ability to produce, administer and get results from tests — all within the walls of our academic medical center — allows us to provide quality care while maintaining a safe environment in our hospital,” said Gonzalo Bearman, M.D., director of the VCU Health Infection Prevention Program. “We can promptly rule out COVID-19 for certain patients, enabling us to appropriately tend to those patients’ medical needs, immediately address the urgent needs of those facing the novel coronavirus, and provide our team members more peace of mind.”

VCU Health will further develop its in-house testing capabilities and aggressively pursue several diagnostic testing options to meet the testing demands of the community. 

“One of the most incredible things is that, 10 days ago, this test didn’t exist,” Doern said. “We designed this test from the ground up in less than two weeks, a process that under normal circumstances would take a year or more. It speaks to the extraordinary work of VCU Health medical technologists and microbiologists in the face of a global pandemic.”

In addition to its in-house test, VCU Health continues to administer tests in collaboration with private and public state health labs for all patients presenting COVID-19 symptoms, whether they require hospitalization or not. 

About VCU and VCU Health

Virginia Commonwealth University is a major, urban public research university with national and international rankings in sponsored research. Located in downtown Richmond, VCU enrolls more than 30,000 students in 233 degree and certificate programs in the arts, sciences and humanities. Twenty-two of the programs are unique in Virginia, many of them crossing the disciplines of VCU’s 11 schools and three colleges. The VCU Health brand represents the VCU health sciences academic programs, the VCU Massey Cancer Center and the VCU Health System, which comprises VCU Medical Center (the only academic medical center in the region), Community Memorial Hospital, Children’s Hospital of Richmond at VCU, and MCV Physicians. The clinical enterprise includes a collaboration with Sheltering Arms Institute for physical rehabilitation services. For more, please visit www.vcu.edu and vcuhealth.org.