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Indiana Daily Student

Take a look inside IU's new COVID-19 testing labs

<p>Lab technician Ahmed Alazawi watches as a Hamilton STARlet robot transfers saliva samples into 96-well plates Oct. 27 in IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The machine is the first transfer of testing samples into smaller well plates, which can hold 96 samples. This robot is on loan from the Eli Lilly corporation in Indianapolis and another machine is due for delivery before Thanksgiving, scientific director Craig Pikaard said.</p>

Lab technician Ahmed Alazawi watches as a Hamilton STARlet robot transfers saliva samples into 96-well plates Oct. 27 in IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The machine is the first transfer of testing samples into smaller well plates, which can hold 96 samples. This robot is on loan from the Eli Lilly corporation in Indianapolis and another machine is due for delivery before Thanksgiving, scientific director Craig Pikaard said.

Faster and a higher quantity of COVID-19 test results — that's the goal of IU's COVID-19 testing labs, which went online last week.

IU granted the Indiana Daily Student access to the labs in Myers Hall to take a look at the process each test goes through before students, staff and faculty receive their results.

The Bloomington labs, located in Myers Hall, process COVID-19 tests taken at the Presidents Hall testing site inside Franklin Hall, and some tests from Memorial Stadium, according to lab management. Another IU lab in Indianapolis processes most of the tests from the stadium.

Professor Matthew Hahn, lab director, and professor Craig Pikaard, lab scientific director, guided the IDS through the testing process documented below.

Ovens heated to 95 degrees Celsius sit side-by-side Oct. 27 at IU’s COVID-19 testing lab at Myers Hall. After the tests arrive via a small cooler they are put into the ovens that inactivate the COVID-19 virus, the first step in processing COVID-19 tests. Matthew Hahn, the director of the labs, said this is the only step of the process that involves active virus. Colin Kulpa
Lab assistant DJ Ottman handles testing vials Oct. 27 in the IU COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. Ottman usually handles the saliva samples as they are moved from the oven to the table, where the testing reagent is added and the vials are prepared for the next step in the process. Ottman also removed the empty vials from tests run the day before, which lab director Matthew Hahn said are not immediately thrown away in case an issue occurs further into the testing process. Colin Kulpa
COVID-19 testing vials sit ready to be transferred to smaller well plates by a robot Oct. 27 in the IU COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. Craig Pikaard, scientific director for the lab, said most of the steps in the lab process are simply moving the testing samples into different-sized well plates, which requires multiple machines. Colin Kulpa
Lab technician Ahmed Alazawi watches as a Hamilton STARlet robot transfers saliva samples into 96-well plates Oct. 27 in IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The machine is the first transfer of testing samples into smaller well plates, which can hold 96 samples. This robot is on loan from the Eli Lilly corporation in Indianapolis and another machine is due for delivery before Thanksgiving, scientific director Craig Pikaard said. Colin Kulpa
Pipettes extract testing samples to move to a well plate Oct. 27 at the COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The Hamilton STARlet robot is in high demand, and the machine at IU’s Bloomington lab is on loan from the Eli Lilly corporation, scientific director Craig Pikaard said. Colin Kulpa
Professor and lab scientific director Craig Pikaard holds up a 384-well plate Oct. 27 at IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The well plates, which in total amount to roughly $4,000, can hold 384 samples. Each well plate contains four positive and four negative control samples to help ensure accuracy in tests, Pikaard said. Colin Kulpa
Lab scientific director Craig Pikaard holds up a guide to the locations of samples in the 384-well plate Oct. 27 at IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The locations of the four positive control samples in the top left and the four negative controls in the bottom right of each well plate are outlined in pen. Colin Kulpa
A machine that analyzes test results sits next to a laptop displaying a positive test result Oct. 27 in IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. The saliva tests IU uses and processes in its laps are saliva-based PCR tests, or polymerase chain reaction tests. In short, these tests are very accurate; more accurate than antigen saliva tests and even possibly more accurate than nasal PCR tests, scientific director Craig Pikaard said. Scientific reports show that nasal PCR tests could pick up viral fragments from someone who has recovered from COVID-19, Pikaard said, which would result in a false positive result that saliva-based PCR tests avoid. Colin Kulpa
A computer displays a positive COVID-19 sample Oct. 27 in IU’s COVID-19 testing labs in Myers Hall. If the curves from the testing sample pass a threshold, marked by the colored lines across the graph, the sample is positive, scientific director Craig Pikaard said. The sooner a curve crosses a threshold on the x-axis, the more virus is present in that sample. All positive and inconclusive results are double-checked by hand, Pikaard said. Colin Kulpa

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