Conway Medical Center partners with Coastal Carolina University to Develop Rapid Testing Protocol for COVID-19

The medical staff at Conway Medical Center (CMC) has teamed up with professors at Coastal Carolina University (CCU) to develop a screening test for SARS-CoV-2 (novel coronavirus) infection, which is currently entering the validation process.

The validation process involves comparing the results of the CCU-developed test with the standard test that is currently available to patients at CMC. As patients are tested for COVID-19 at CMC, they are asked whether they are willing to be part of this study and validation process. If willing, they are tested with the traditional nasal swab, as well as with a saliva sample test which the patients perform themselves by swabbing their tongues under the direction of a CMC nurse. Those results are compared in the CMC laboratory by CCU scientists to see if the results are the same. The results of this validation process would allow for an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) that could increase the capacity of local testing for COVID-19, and – as time progresses – develop a new higher throughput method for testing than is currently available.

“Conway Medical Center is excited to be part of developing this COVID-19 test, especially one that is faster and less invasive. We constantly look for ways to help our patients long-term, and this collaboration with Coastal Carolina University and its outstanding team of scientists does just that. To be on the forefront of this research and test development is an example of CMC’s commitment to improving health and saving lives in our community and beyond,” said CMC’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Paul Richardson. (Note: CMC has Paul Richardson, M.D. and CCU has Paul Richardson, Ph.D.).

“As the virus spreads, it becomes increasingly important to ramp up testing for COVID-19 to better manage the spread of the virus,” said Michael Roberts, dean of the Gupta College of Science at CCU. “Nationwide, we may require a capability of close to a million a day to meet the expected demand and to expand proper patient care.”

The impetus for the test development came in early April, when CCU professor and chair of the S.C. Floodwater Commission Tom Mullikin passed on concerns to the dean about the speed for testing of COVID-19 in South Carolina. Mullikin inquired if there were faculty at CCU who could work on developing a rapid test and expressed a need for CCU to do all it could to bring its best resources to this challenge.

As a result, biology professor Michelle Barthet, Ph.D., based upon her laboratory expertise, developed several strategies for possible high through-put testing. This means that, using CCU’s test, CMC would be able to test 28 samples for the virus in less than 90 minutes. Current testing times can take up to 48 hours to deliver results.

Barthet worked with CCU biochemistry professor Paul Richardson, Ph.D., to develop the testing protocol in the month of April, which was approved by the CCU Institutional Review Board (IRB) later that month.

The professors and their partners at CMC are optimistic about the validation process, though the timeframe for validation isn’t set in stone.

“It really depends on how many positive samples we get and how accurate the test is,” said CCU’s Richardson.

“This project, in addition to being a strong testament to the fruitful collaborations between Coastal Carolina University and Conway Medical Center, is also a means to help increase testing capabilities in our area and serve as a model for other communities to increase their testing capacity,” said Roberts.

“We are doing it because we feel a sense of pride in our community, and we want to be there to help our community,” said CCU’s Richardson.

“We are excited for this opportunity and truly believe this could be a game-changer,” said CMC’s Dr. Richardson.