IW Partners With Lab for COVID Testing

Iowa Wesleyan University (IW) partnered with the Sheffield Lab of the Carver College of Medicine at the University of Iowa for COVID-19 testing. This unique partnership provided IW the opportunity to conduct the necessary saliva testing on campus throughout the fall semester, and plans are already in place for spring semester testing.

Last March, when COVID-19 spread throughout the country, Dr. Val Sheffield’s lab was in jeopardy of being shut down. This lab was set up to work on human genetic diseases, but according to the University of Iowa, if they could develop a COVID-19 test, they could stay open during the pandemic. With some quick thinking and action, Dr. Sheffield and his team were able to begin making the tests within a few days. On April 1, 2020, they submitted their FDA application and subsequently received human subject approval from the University of Iowa Internal Review Board (IRB), which allows them to perform tests for research purposes.

Dr. Sheffield was committed to finding ways to support the community through their testing option. “We need to provide free testing for the community, and it doesn’t matter what it costs us,” said Dr. Sheffield. “We have to get it out there.” As a small rural private university, Iowa Wesleyan was searching for an affordable testing option to have on campus to keep the students and community safe as they planned to bring students back to their residential campus in August and offer face to face classes.

Dr. DeWayne Frazier, IW university provost, happened to see an article about the lab in May and contacted Dr. Sheffield. After a couple of conversations and meetings with representatives of the IW health team, the partnership was formed.

IW created a model in which the Sheffield Lab tests were given to students on campus, and a member of the Health Team delivered these tests to the lab in Iowa City 2-3 times a week. Each test was numbered, so the student’s identity was kept anonymous to anyone involved, except for the campus nurse and university officials. The lab would run the tests and, within the same day, submit the results to IW to begin contact tracing for those students who tested positive. The tests developed by Sheffield Labs are Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) tests, which have been the most accurate in the fight against COVID-19 detection.

The University used these tests for high-risk students as they moved onto campus and throughout the semester as a surveillance measure. “We were able to avoid a significant outbreak on campus or in our residence halls because we had the opportunity to do surveillance testing through this partnership,” said Matt Klundt, assistant dean of students for health, careers, and service.

The Sheffield Lab was fortunate to receive a grant from the Roy J. Carver Charitable Trust, which provided funds for the development of their COVID-19 test. The Sheffield Lab continues to provide testing for free from its Iowa City lab and is open to donations to help ensure their important service can continue for all those who benefit significantly from their expertise.