• By Dana Sparks

Testing for COVID-19: A year of innovation, ingenuity and invention

April 23, 2021
close up of Mayo Clinic Laboratories research hands with purple gloves holding a beaker and measuring a liquid

The intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and the 50th anniversary of Mayo Clinic Laboratories, and this year's Medical Laboratory Professionals Week offers an opportunity to recognize the commitment, innovation and dedication of clinical laboratory professionals, especially for their work over the past year.

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“It was very much an Apollo 13 type of moment, where you were looking to use anything to solve the problem," says Dr. William Morice II, chair of the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology and president of Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

Dr. Morice is referring to how Mayo Clinic Laboratories responded during the COVID-19 pandemic. He says the team started out developing a test to detect the COVID-19 infection and then expanded the types of specimens that could be used. From there antibody and serology testing ramped up. And then they were testing patients who had recovered from COVID-19.

Dr. Morice shares that while life at home and in the community was difficult for everybody during the pandemic, the work was inspiring.

“The flipside is, it's energizing to think you're part of the solution," he says. "To know how important testing was, to help with all the that we were seeing. It really gave a lot of energy to all of us in the profession to rise to the challenge and develop a test that we needed, and make the testing available." 

Watch: Fast-paced video of the dedicated work of Mayo Clinic Laboratories staff.

Dr. Morice says they are continuing to test how people are responding to the COVID-19 vaccination and if they're contracting COVID-19, even after being vaccinated. He also says, with the emerging COVID-19 variants the past three to four months, the labs are testing to see how the virus has changed, particularly in areas where cases are increasing or in people who have been previously infected or vaccinated for COVID-19.

He says this last year has reinforced the need for Mayo Clinic to not only be available to provide testing, but also to provide the knowledge about how testing can be used to improve people's lives and to improve health care.

"Mayo Clinic had something special in terms of how it uses clinical laboratories to make a diagnosis for a patient," says Dr. Morice. "And we wanted to make that available to individuals outside of our campus, as well as fulfill our educational mission to help the hospitals that we worked with, so they understand how to best use a clinical laboratory to support patient care."

Watch: Dr. Morice discusses the innovation, ingenuity and invention at Mayo Clinic Laboratories.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites with Dr. Morice and lab b-roll are in the downloads at the end the post. Please courtesy: "William Morice II, M.D., Ph.D. / President / Mayo Clinic Laboratories" for sound bites and "Mayo Clinic News Network" for the b-roll.

Discovery Square in a science research hub in Rochester, Minn., and Dr. Morice says the space provides an environment to create new solutions for patients.

"The clinical laboratory is a very regulated environment, as it should be, because we're producing information that people make decisions about," explains Dr. Morice. "But sometimes all that structure can be sort of an inhibitor to spontaneous thought and creativity that innovation spurs. These ideas need a place to germinate and to grow, or they tend to not go as far as they could. That's really what's great about this space. It's ideas coming right out of our clinical practice, right out of the clinical labs that we consider and then bring them over here to an environment where we can really start to let them flourish."

Looking toward the future — the next 50 years — Dr. Morice emphasizes the power of collaboration. "We know we've had collaborations with a lot of different industries, other testing companies on a weekly basis, and we've come so far so quickly, because of that collaboration. So, how do we continue to build on that. Ultimately, though, what honestly drives all of this is the focus and dedication of our staff to our mission, to serve the needs of each and every patient we can."

Learn more about Medical Laboratory Professionals Week.

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For the safety of its patients, staff and visitors, Mayo Clinic has strict masking policies in place. Anyone shown without a mask was either recorded prior to COVID-19 or recorded in a nonpatient care area where social distancing and other safety protocols were followed.

Information in this post was accurate at the time of its posting. Due to the fluid nature of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific understanding, along with guidelines and recommendations, may have changed since the original publication date

For more information and all your COVID-19 coverage, go to the Mayo Clinic News Network and mayoclinic.org.

Learn more about: Tracking COVID-19 and COVID-19 trends.

April 22, 2021- Mayo Clinic COVID-19 trending map using red color tones for hot spots