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Corvallis Hospital Turns To OSU Veterinarian Lab For Help In COVID-19 Fight

Oregon State University

A hospital in Corvallis got some help from an unusual source in its fight against COVID-19: The veterinary lab at Oregon State University.

It has to do with testing for the disease. That requires taking a swab from deep inside the nose. But that's just the first step. Next, you have to get the sample to the lab. That requires a specialized fluid to preserve the genetic material until it can be examined.

Samaritan Health was running low on that liquid, and with normal medical supply chains in flux, the hospital turned to Oregon State University for help. In stepped the school’s College of Veterinary Medicine, where lab technicians quickly figured out a way to make the medical-grade solution, known as a "viral transport medium."

“We have the components to actually make it, whereas a hospital is simply not going to have the capacity to do that, typically,” said Justin Sanders, an assistant professor with the College.

Sanders said the hardest part was working out the logistics, such as making sure they were using the right ingredients. The actual production was the easy part.

"Our virologist, Wendy Black, made it up," he said. "It took about an hour."

The three liters of solution will be enough to transport 1,000 tests. Sanders said he's already fielded an inquiry from another hospital to make more of the liquid. "I anticipate a lot more demand shortly," he said.

While the College of Veterinary Medicine doesn't typically help out with health emergencies affecting humans, fighting viral diseases isn't entirely out of its bailiwick.

"We are involved in surveillance for pandemics and important worldwide diseases, but in a veterinary capacity," said Sanders. "We test for things like avian influenza, foot and mouth disease, and some other pathogens that can affect people as well as animals."

Chris Lehman has been reporting on Oregon issues since 2006. He joined the KLCC news department in December 2018 and became News Director in March 2023. Chris was born and raised in Pennsylvania, and graduated from Temple University with a degree in journalism. His public broadcasting career includes stops in Louisiana and Illinois. Chris has filed for national programs including “Morning Edition” and “All Things Considered.”
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