New Castle County and Delaware State University cut the ribbon on the new genomics testing lab on the DSU’s Wilmington campus.
New Castle County used $5.5 million of its federal CARES Act money on the facility - which is expected to be another tool in the fight against COVID-19 and help keep residents healthier.
The lab allows the county to deliver more efficient COVID testing. It also can map genomes, and has diagnostic testing for other infectious diseases.
The lab also brings new jobs to the county in 5600 square feet of previously unused space at DSU’s Wilmington campus on Kirkwood Highway.
County Executive Matt Meyer says the lab will have the same state of the art technology used to help come up with vaccines to fight COVID-19.
“And the machinery they use, the trick to mapping that genome within hours rather than months, or years, or decades was a piece of Illumina brand machinery, and now across the hall from us, Delaware State University has nearly identical machinery to that machinery used to set us on a course that’s really making history right here on Kirkwood Highway,” said Meyer.
The lab started up right before Christmas, and is conducting 50 tests a day mainly for student-athletes, according to DSU President Dr. Tony Allen, with the plan to reach 1200 in three weeks.
"This project was conceived out of the necessity for faster and more affordable testing. Being locally-based cuts days off the time that it currently takes to ship samples to other labs across the country," said Allen. "We are also using a simpler testing protocol that cuts down on costs. This partnership truly represents a win/win for the County and DSU while bringing much-needed jobs to the region."
Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester says this lab sets an example for other states and universities around the country.
“We are now a model for the nation," said Blunt Rochester. "This created a playbook that other HBCU’s and universities will be able to use around the country. It’s faster, the testing at this lab. It costs less. I heard estimates of $55 to $5 to $8.”
Officials hope the lab reduces the cost and time to process COVID-19 tests, and allow the county to keep money it’s spending to outsource for test results.
The lab is also expected to increase DSU’s scientific capabilities, and serve as a regional testing hub that helps the county prepare for future pandemics.
"While we work to vaccinate more Delawareans, we must remain focused on measures like widespread testing and mask-wearing to stop further spread of COVID-19," Sen. Chris Coons said. "This federally-funded genomics lab, made possible through the CARES Act, will help expand affordable, efficient, and reliable testing here in Delaware. Having local lab space at DSU in New Castle County will improve both the cost of testing and turnaround time for results, which will help us get back to normal."
The university has four people to staff the lab, and their salaries range from $40,000 to $80,000 a year. The plan is to have a staff of 10 full-time employees from DSU with students helping to gain hands-on experience.
So far, DSU has purchased and installed four Thermo Fisher test processing instruments, two Illumina genome sequencers, which will be used to sequence new variants of the virus, and one Beckman Coulter robotics platform allowing the lab to scale testing. That arrives early in February.