The Washington State Patrol Crime Lab in Vancouver has loaned two complex testing machines to the University of Washington to help increase COVID-19 testing.
It decided Friday to loan the critical equipment, which were slated for use in the new DNA testing high-throughput lab, according to a state patrol news release.
The University of Washington’s Virology Department currently processes about 2,000 to 3,000 COVID-19 clinical samples per day. The number of daily tests is expected to increase, and the department has found itself in need of additional equipment — specifically, ThermoFisher 7500 testing units.
The company that makes the testing machines is unable to fill all of the requests for them due to high demand. It contacted the Vancouver crime lab, and together, they decided to loan the lab’s two high-throughput units to the university, according to state patrol.
Officials said the change will have no immediate impact to the high-throughput lab, which was set to become fully operational in June.
“It is important that WSP helped to enhance the public health of our citizens during this time of crisis,” Chief John Batiste said. “Our crime laboratory teams are committed to making a difference every day for the health and safety of all Washingtonians, and this partnership is a great example of their dedication.”
The high-throughput lab will help clear thousands of untested sexual assault kits statewide. Legislation passed unanimously last year set up new procedures for testing sexual assault kits and called for the development of the lab in Vancouver. It should allow the backlog of up to 10,000 kits to be eliminated by December 2021.
That law also requires kits be tested within 45 days of being collected. Historically, DNA analysis of some sexual assault kits can take an average of a year to complete.
In November, the crime lab was on track to establish the advanced DNA testing segment, with the arrival of a new robot and newly hired scientists. The Hamilton Microlab Autolys STAR liquid-handling robot, a glass box with internal machinery worth about $240,000, can handle 88 sexual assault kit swabs at once, Heather Pyles, DNA supervisor for the high-throughput lab, previously told The Columbian.
State patrol Sgt. Darren Wright said in an email that the ThermoFisher testing units were already in Vancouver, awaiting the completion of the high-throughput lab. The units weren’t being used, which is why they were available for loan, Wright said.
“It is still being determined if the University of Washington will send those same units back when they are through, or send the new ones they ordered to us when they arrive,” Wright said.
The high-throughput lab should still open as planned in June, but state patrol “will continue to keep tabs on the progress and standing up of the new lab,” the sergeant said.