COMP Associate Professor Sebastien Fuchs, MD, PhD

Western University of Health Sciences faculty and staff are collaborating with a local surgeon to expedite the COVID-19 testing process.

Harish Yalamanchili, MD, a Pomona-based general surgeon and WesternU preceptor, began collaborating with his brother-in-law, Chris Crock, PhD, who runs a lab in the Bay Area, to help increase the number and turnaround time for COVID-19 tests. But they were running into problems so he reached out to WesternU College of Osteopathic Medicine of the Pacific (COMP) Assistant Dean Natalie Nevins, DO, MSHPE.

Nevins put the call out among her WesternU colleagues to help Yalamanchili, and several people responded quickly. COMP Associate Professor Sebastien Fuchs, MD, PhD, worked with his colleagues at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center to obtain control samples and establish a protocol that allows them to run tests more efficiently and more locally. This collaborative group ramped up testing from virtually nothing to about 100 tests a day within two weeks at CMB Lab in Cypress, California.

“For the majority of labs, turnaround time was seven to 10 days,” Yalamanchili said. “Our turnaround time is 90 minutes. We set up that part of the lab from zero to fully functioning in about eight days, which is nuts.”

Fuchs and Crock are working on a new protocol to shorten the processing time even further. Yalamanchili and Crock are creating their own independent clinical laboratory with the goal of providing 100,000 COVID-19 tests in the next 12 months.

“I am really glad that our College has been able to support the initiation of their project as this will surely contribute in the upcoming weeks and months to fight the pandemic, keep us all as safe as possible and restore a more ‘normal’ situation allowing for the reopening of the University and other businesses,” Fuchs said.

Scientists around the world are discovering information about COVID-19 daily. The ability to test is absolutely essential to foresee where this pandemic is going, whether cases are increasing or not, Fuchs said.

“This is a unique time and we are facing unique problems. It’s really important that whoever has the opportunity, knowledge, and the capacity to help should help,” he said.

COMP Dean Paula Crone, DO ’92, COMP Vice Chair of Infectious Disease and Internal Medicine Nishita Patel, MD, FACP, and WesternU Educational 3D Visualization Specialist Gary Wisser also contributed to the project.

“This is a lot of collaboration, with WesternU being at the forefront of all of this,” Yalamanchili said. “This is one of the coolest stories ever. In the middle of a pandemic, how many ways can you truly stand up and say, ‘We’re doing this.’ This presented an opportunity and (WesternU) came through.”