Spring 2020

Scientists Race to Make Specimen Collection Kits

Scientists across the University of Arizona worked quickly to  expand the ability of American public health authorities to test for COVID-19 by making more specimen collection kits available.

A team of scientists at the UArizona Health Sciences Biorepository secured the materials to produce 7,000 coronavirus specimen collection kits in March. A significant shortage of kits nationally and regionally has limited the ability to test patients for the virus.

“Fortunately, our personnel at the biorepository have several decades of experience in creating biospecimen collection kits for use in FDA-approved analyses and clinical applications,” says Biorepository Director David Harris, who was one of the first scientists to create the cord blood stem cell collection kits that have become commonplace in most hospitals.

The specimen collection kits consist of two critical elements: the swab and the medium that secures the sample. Harris says the lack of these elements has created the bottleneck in widespread testing.

Researchers at the university’s BIO5 Institute also supported the effort. Working from a formula provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they created five liters of the necessary storage medium — enough for 1,600 specimen collection kits.

“One of the core purposes of a high-quality research university is to ensure we are able to make material differences in our communities,” says Betsy Cantwell, senior vice president for research and innovation. "This pandemic tests all of our lives, and having the capacity to rapidly convert the amazing research capacities that we have at the University of Arizona into support for critical needs during this COVID-19 outbreak is exactly why we are here.”