medical technologist in clinical microbiology laboratory

Columbia University Irving Medical Center/New York-Presbyterian Hospital Currently Processing 1,000 COVID-19 Tests per Day, Launches Antibody Testing

Approximately 1,000 COVID-19 tests are now being processed each day by the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at NewYork-Presbyterian (NYP)/Columbia University Irving Medical Center (CUIMC) to detect the presence of the virus in nasopharyngeal samples and determine if a person is currently infected. Across the NYP system, 2,400 tests can now be run daily, and this capacity can be increased if needed to test more patients and health care workers.

The CUIMC Clinical Laboratory is also processing about 50 tests a day to look for antibodies in the blood of people who have recovered from COVID-19. People who have been exposed to the virus and produce antibodies may be able to donate serum to help others with the disease and may be immune to reinfection and able to return safely to work. We expect to be able to increase this capacity substantially as assays are validated in the near future. 

“The Department of Pathology & Cell Biology, led by Kevin Roth, and its Division of Clinical Pathology, led by Steven Spitalnik, have led the way nationally in developing and validating COVID-19 testing and in making it available to fight this pandemic,” said Lee Goldman, MD, Dean of the Faculties of Health Sciences and Medicine. “We all owe them an enormous debt of gratitude.”

Antibody testing becoming increasingly available

Several additional serological tests designed by scientists at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons to detect SARS-CoV-2 antibodies are currently undergoing validation testing in the CUIMC Clinical Laboratory; patient samples could be run with these tests as early as next week (pending New York State Department of Health approval). 

Hundreds of samples a day could potentially be screened with these new antibody tests when fully automated. The tests were developed in the laboratories of David Ho, MD, the Clyde'56 and Helen Wu Professor of Medicine, and Filippo Mancia, PhD, associate professor of physiology & cellular biophysics.

Currently, the Clinical Laboratory uses a rapid, but low throughput, qualitative antibody test developed by BioMedomics, which determines the presence of IgM and IgG antibodies. Columbia’s Clinical Laboratory was one of the first in the United States to validate and run this assay.

Viral tests can be processed in as little as four hours

Up to 1,000 samples per day can be tested using a Roche 6800 instrument that detects the new SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus in nasopharyngeal samples in as little as four hours.

The Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at CUIMC was one of the first in the country to run the Roche assay on March 15, just two days after the test received FDA Emergency Use Authorization. The Roche coronavirus test runs on a fully automated Roche 6800 system, housed in its own room inside the Clinical Microbiology Laboratory at NewYork-Presbyterian/CUIMC. 

“This system is a huge advance in testing. The new test and the automated system reduce the time it takes our lab to process and report coronavirus tests from 12-24 hours down to as little as four hours,” says Kevin Roth, MD, PhD, chair of pathology & cell biology at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and pathologist-in-chief at NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Irving Medical Center.

In addition, about 250 viral tests per day are now being processed by the laboratory with kits from Cepheid and Abbott that can provide even more rapid results. 

Other COVID testing at CUIMC

The Department of Pathology & Cell Biology also has established an in situ hybridization assay for detection of the virus in clinical tissue specimens, rapidly re-assigned two laboratories for COVID-19 clinical and research activities, and received New York State Department of Health approval for an assay to detect IL-6, a cytokine that may contribute to COVID-19 pathology.

“I’m incredibly proud of our staff,” said Roth. “They have extraordinary expertise and are key to helping us fight this pandemic.”