Wichita State celebrates opening of high-volume COVID-19 test lab


Wichita State University marked the opening of the Molecular Diagnostics Lab (MDL) with a ribbon-cutting and remarks from Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly on Monday, Oct. 19 at the John Bardo Center on Wichita State’s Innovation Campus.  

“Along with wearing masks, socially distancing and avoiding mass gatherings, we know that an increase in COVID-19 testing capacity is one of the most important tools we can leverage to mitigate the virus’ spread,” Kelly said. 

Gov. Kelly said rapid, high-volume testing for COVID-19 will keep Kansas schools, businesses, and government open. 

“With a coordinated strategy, we can identify hotspots before they spread out of control and make sure that Kansans can take proper safety precautions or avoid locations where the virus is present. We can help provide certainty that our schools and our businesses can stay open safely,” she said. “That's why this new high-volume testing center is so significant, particularly here in Sedgwick County and this the surrounding region, which are home to some of our largest employers and school districts in Kansas.”

Kelly acknowledged the rigorous work of universities throughout Kansas to help treat and prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“This new molecular diagnostic lab is yet another example of the forward-thinking initiatives that make our research universities such an important part of our pandemic response and a true testament to what we can be accomplished when we foster partnerships among our state or universities, our local units of government and the private sector,” she said. 

Dr. Rick Muma, interim president of Wichita State, said “This pandemic has brought forth uncertainty and an unprecedented set of challenges throughout the world, but the MDL will be one of our state’s best weapons for combatting and reducing the spread of COVID-19.”

Other speakers at the event included Dr. John Tomblin, Wichita State senior vice president for Industry & Defense Programs, who said at full capacity, the MDL is capable of testing up to 32,000 specimens per week.

Tomblin said the MDL is the culmination of efforts among the university, its innovation partners, Sedgwick County, and the state. 

“We assembled a team, and I like to say it's the dream team of Wichita,” Tomblin said.

Dr. Joel Alderson, director of the MDL, said he’s proud to be a part of such a remarkable facility.  

“The fact that we've turned an empty warehouse into a state-of-the-art lab in six months is just pretty exciting. I think this is going to be a model not only for the state, but for the country of how we can get ahead of this pandemic,” Alderson said. 

Alderson is working closely with Sara Nickel, assistant professor for Wichita State’s Department of Medical Laboratory Sciences and medical laboratory science director of the Molecular Diagnostic Lab. Nickel said one of the more surprising and valuable partnerships has been with the National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). 

“NIAR has spent a lot of time working side by side with me looking at our process and developing a few innovative tools to use that make my life so much easier in the clinical lab,” she said.

Sedgwick County Commissioner Pete Meitzner said he’s optimistic about the state’s fight against COVID-19.

“We've got a challenge ahead of us, but I think we made a large, large step today,” he said.

How the lab works

Medical facilities and doctors’ offices across the state will collect saliva, oropharyngeal, and nasopharyngeal swabs from patients, send them to the lab, and the MDL will have test results within 24 hours. To be tested, patients should talk to their health care provider or dial 211. Health. care providers who would like to work with MDL should call 978-8600 or email mdl@wichita.edu.

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