Cooper University Health Care has new tech to help identify COVID-19 variants

A southern New Jersey health care system is using new technology to better determine what variant of COVID-19 is prevalent in a particular community.
Cooper University Health Care has a new tool in the battle against the virus.
“We take a defined amount of RNA and put it on this instrument,” says Dr. Tina Edmonston, director of molecular pathology.
The gene sequencing technology takes positive COVID samples and detects which variant it is.
“We used extracted RNA, which is the generic information for the virus, and basically put it in this instrument that does an entire next-generation process automatically,” Edmonston says.
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Cooper says the new technology helps them identify variants that are prevalent in the area more quickly, and then sends that information to the state.
"There may be a time when the Omicron peak is winding down, where something else will become more prevalent and then we have the tool to sort of see that,” Edmonston says. “And then people will be more alert to maybe pay attention to different clinical presentations and stuff like that.”
Edmonston says that the turnaround time is much quicker than if they sent samples to an outside lab.
"It takes less than 48 hours from the very beginning to the end, and very little hands-on time, so it's very convenient when everybody in the lab is so busy just doing straight COVID testing for diagnostic purposes,” she says.
The machine will eventually be used for other illnesses.
"The same technology also be used for cancer testing in the broadest sense. It can be used for molecular testing of solid tumors or leukemia,” Edmonston says. “It’s certainly our plan to do that too as some point.”