Michigan tries new approaches to coronavirus testing
Michigan was one of the State's first at bat against a huge outbreak of corona virus. Michigan hit its peak in April reporting a high of more than eighteen hundred new cases on April. The third new cases remained above fifteen hundred for days that month Governor Gretchen whitmer declared a state of emergency by April first she closed all schools throughout the academic year hospitals were overrun even as workers faced layoffs and paycuts thousands. Of medical workers came down with the virus as they struggled to treat patients, and by the end of the month, the state ranked third for the highest number of coronavirus fatalities in the country Michigan struggled to bend the curve, but Michigan came through the curve bent. Now, the question is whether Michigan can stay out of the red zone and the state has seen a few smaller waves since the worst of it this spring, there was the outbreak last month that. Harper's bar the popular haunt for Michigan State University which reopened to an unexpectedly large crowd on June. The eighth local reporters found young patrons lining up less than six feet apart, and then packing the dance floor like they would on an ordinary non pandemic night. No masks to see in that picture state health officials later link that bar nearly two hundred new infections and today Michigan posted one of its higher totals of statewide new cases for the past couple of. Months and that's concerning especially because everywhere in the country right now, educators are trying to figure out how to get education going again it's basically every state and in some instances, every school district or even school for themselves at Michigan, State, in East Lansing, they're exploring a combination strategy that's going to be new to them, and that might be new for anyone else and it starts with a spit test developed at the university by neuroscience professor named Jack Lipton this man. The kit costs around three dollars a piece, and as you can see, it's pretty simple. You can do this in the privacy of your own apartment or dorm room you put your sample in the vial with the Little Barcode you seal it in the bag and Wallah your part is over the lab at Michigan State will take your sample and combine it with others in what is known as pool testing, which maybe you've heard about recently, the idea behind pulled testing is that it can help labs do more way more with weight less instead of having each person take their own. Separate test you pull the samples from a small number of people about a dozen and you run a single test on that pool of the pool turns up positive only then do you need each person in the pool to take a test but if the pool turns up negative, you're done the single test covered a dozen people in a place where you expect a lot of negatives. Pool testing is remarkably efficient at Michigan state. They're going to step further than that. Each volunteer who takes a spit test goes into separate pools of about ten or so people so think about it like. Two teams. You're Miami Dolphin and a Seattle Seahawk, or you're Houston rocket and in Minnesota Timber Wolves choose your metaphor. The point is if two pools come back with positive results, it can only mean one thing. The lab just finds the person who belongs to both pools using a handy grid like this one, and then recommends that that person get a follow up diagnostic test. It's like playing Bingo be six Bingo you might have corona virus. That's what Professor Lipton plans to do with samples from MSU volunteers testing two thousand of them every day and referring any apparent positives for an individual diagnostic test. Now, the third and most unusual part of this plan has to do with sewage scientists are discovering that they can spot a rising rotavirus cases early on by texting. Communities, Wastewater Michigan State, professor, Joan Rose and her team have been testing the campus wastewater. Since April she says, they noticed a peak in the virus that lined up with the news about an outbreak at a college hang out which demonstrated that there sewage diving expeditions worked I made that up I don't know if they're actually diving. For the testing this fall, the idea is to sample the wastewater from different places on campus so that they can get hyper local data if they can get good enough at sampling and turning around their result in a timely fashion, their work could act as an early alert system for Michigan State perhaps, even at the level of individual buildings. So you've got the pool testing with the affordable spit kits you've got expanded. Diagnostic testing. But literally just for those people who appear to be positive or just playing turn-up sick and then you've got the wastewater testing which increasingly looks like a functioning means of getting a warning in time to react if the plan works, it could help the university find and contain outbreaks. If it works the plan could help Michigan State and it's sixty seven thousand students stay on campus and have something like a semester. Joining us now is the aforementioned Dr Jack? Lipton. Of Translational Neuroscience at Michigan State University Dr Lipton. Thank you for being with us. We've heard about pool testing I want you to tell us a little more about it and why it it specifically helpful in this instance what what about Michigan State makes it a perfect candidate for the pooling of spit. What would you think about full testing end and Michigan state one of the things that you're that is really important to understand that the resources that we have is that university are fairly limited. Bright. But we're not a multinational corporation. So funds are limited resources are limited and pooling allows us to. have. More. More test being done with the same amount of resources or with less resources. So in this case, if we're dealing with supply chain issues with testing if we can test ten people with reagents that we would need to test one person, then we are were saving a lot in terms of of supplies, and if we don't have to run ten tests and we can run one test, we save a lot of time. So if you can save time and you can save supplies, you're going to Yeah. Ultimately conserve and that's really what our goal is and this. This works 'cause you're not expecting a large proportion of people to have this thing right. So generally speaking a bunch of these pools, we'll come out negative. Right. pools if you if you have about ten people in a pool in your expectation is maybe seeing two or three out of a hundred people. Show up positive than most of your pools are going to be negative. The more the prevalence increases the more the rates of infection increase. Then you're going to have more and more positive bulls. If one out of every ten people are positive than a pool of ten, most likely is going to have a positive individual in it. So you have to really balance pool size and prevalence together in order to come up with the right balance to save resources and save time. So the this actually could have broader implications There's a Wall Street Journal op-ed that you wrote about a previous test not this one that we're talking about, but it was a concept of pulling in you set across the United States tens of thousands of similar academic research labs have the expertise and equipment to help the country test for covid nineteen. If even one tenth of these labs joined the effort we could. Test an additional five, hundred thousand to one million samples a day. Your larger point here is that there are ways to get to more people and and then figure it out early rather than what we're in right now where there are some places where people are waiting in excess of seven days for typical test results in a in a concentrated environment like Michigan state you can. You can see things early and intervene. Absolutely and I think it's really important to note when you're talking about the pet that we put together. The vast amount of resources and know how that existed the academic laboratories universities across the country. Each one of the things that we've proposed was to develop biomedical National Guard and utilize all of these individual laboratories across the country and have them be organized through the federal government in order to be able to respond to pandemics or other natural disasters with biomedical know-how and that if we could get something like that done if the next administration is interested in doing something like that, we can be. Proactive instead of reactive in these kinds of situations. Wow. That's incredible because you just answer the question I was going to ask I was going to say, Hey, what can government do to take advantage of these kinds of resources and you just answer that I just want to say that again, a biomedical National Guard what a great simple idea resources all over the country run by different people but the the government of the United States providing the centralization for the data and the distribution. If you think about all of the laboratories and universities that were shut down as a result of the pandemic so many people were were sitting home like I sitting home on on zoom all day. If we have opportunity to come back into the laboratory and help. We can do so much in terms of trying to not only develop new new treatments and and working on new methods of detection, which is what our laboratory did during during April we can marshal all of these resources all. Know How that exists in order to to. Attack this problem in a concerted and coordinated way. Lifting. There's not a lot of great news about Krono virus, but I have to tell you after this conversation. I'm optimistic that there are people like you around this country who are actually in this moment while everything looks as grim as it is finding solutions that are going to help us see the other side of the coronavirus. Dr. Jack Lift Lipton is the chair and professor of translational neuro size. I don't even know what that is. We'll talk about that another time at Michigan State University. Thank you for all that you are doing and good luck to you at Michigan. State, we'll stay on top of this with you.