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Spit take: Where OADDL is going

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Think 23andMe: a tube is sent, it’s spit in, then sent away for results.  

This could be the same process for a Covid-19 test. 

Oklahoma Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory made national headlines in May with its ability to handle more testing than any other lab in Oklahoma and they haven’t stopped progressing. 

Dr. Kenneth Sewell, vice president of research at Oklahoma State University, has been instrumental since the beginning and spoke about the promising improvements the lab is working toward. The big ticket item being saliva specimen testing. 

Saliva testing would open doors toward a mail transport system, Sewell said. The lab works with mostly swab tests transported via a courier system. Saliva would allow anyone to mail in their nonintrusive test either from home, their company, or various medical locations directly to the lab. Since August, this mail-in system is awaiting FDA approval. 

OADDL developed a validated test for saliva specimens, but they wouldn’t be able to perform in the needed capacity as they are now. They need new automation and uniform testing equipment used across the state. The most needed equipment is specimen tubes. 

“We’re not there yet,” Sewell said. “But that is one of the capabilities we’re hoping to build. We have not been in a situation with the state where there was a willingness to commit to a single way of moving saliva around.” 

The cost of automation equipment able to handle this new type of testing is high, which is an expense waiting to be taken up by the state. 

“We [OADDL] don’t know which way we would go with saliva automation [funding],” Sewell said. “But I think it would be purchased by the state and we would have that automation to then contribute to the state’s testing effort.” 

There may come a time when the state decides to stop funding testing and require those who need testing such as hospitals, their patients, insurance, or  individual companies to pay for it themselves, Sewell said. 

If this were to happen, the lab could establish contracts with these new clients requiring uniformity in testing equipment like the specimen tubes. 

Sewell could not provide a timeline, but he explained that beginning high volume saliva testing in their lab is a high priority to the state.

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