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Updated: April 15, 2020

JAX to expand coronavirus testing for health care workers and hospital patients

Courtesy / Marie Chao A technician works inside the clinical genomics laboratory at the JAX facility in Farmington, Conn.

Jackson Laboratory, in collaboration with several Maine hospitals, will provide additional coronavirus testing for frontline health care workers and inpatients throughout the state.

JAX has begun collaborating with MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta, Mount Desert Island Hospital in Bar Harbor and Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth to expand their existing test capacity for workers and patients with symptoms of COVID-19, according to a news release.

Testing for COVID-19 infection is a critical element for pandemic control but has been in short supply.

JAX, a nonprofit research institution headquartered in Bar Harbor, analyzes test cultures at its Farmington, Conn., laboratory, looking for a specific biologic signature unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. JAX began COVID-19 testing on March 23 at the lab, and is currently testing 2,000 samples per week with plans to ramp up to 3,500 samples this month.

As the COVID-19 pandemic evolves, JAX is adopting advanced technologies and new test platforms and will make these available to its partner hospitals and health care facilities.

“We are committed to using our expertise in human genomics and mammalian genetics to help address the coronavirus outbreak as rapidly as possible,” Edison Liu, the lab’s president and CEO, said in the release. “It is our humanitarian duty to apply our science for the public good. That’s why, in addition to the crucial COVID-19 mouse model and current research under way at JAX, we are focused on providing important local and regional assistance during this health crisis.”

He added, “We also hope to soon engage additional hospitals and health care facilities in Maine to meet the critical testing needs of the state.”

Liu said an advantage to the JAX COVID-19 testing system is that it is calibrated to provide a short turnaround time, so results can be returned to the hospitals quickly.

Courtesy / NIAID-RML
This electron microscope image shows virus particles of SARS-CoV-2 emerging from the surface of cells in a COVID-19 patient, in a test that was cultured at the JAX lab.

“We are proud to partner with our friends at the Jackson Laboratory and appreciate JAX for providing additional COVID-19 testing for hospital health care workers and patients,” John Ronan, president of Northern Light Maine Coast and Blue Hill Hospitals, said in the release. 

Arthur Blank, president and CEO of MDI Hospital, said,“Mount Desert Island Hospital is grateful for the opportunity to collaborate with our partners at the Jackson Laboratory to provide COVID-19 testing assistance and support as our community addresses this critical challenge."

Individuals seeking to be tested for COVID-19 should not call or come directly to JAX, but instead call a doctor’s office or local hospital for guidance.

In March, JAX announced its plans to deliver a transgenic mouse model to the world’s research community that can serve as an experimental platform for COVID-19.

When the COVID-19 crisis arose, it became clear there would be high and immediate demand for the mouse model. To generate sufficient quantities of the mice, JAX initiated a large-scale in vitro fertilization program in order to size a colony to meet the demands of researchers around the world.

JAX is also reviewing other mouse models for their potential to advance COVID-19 research.

On April 13, the lab announced that its mouse genome informatics website now offers a special, annotated information site about mice and genes relevant to coronavirus research.

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