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Delaware Valley University Biology Alumnus Helps in the Fight Against COVID-19

Mar 26, 2020

Delaware Valley University Biology Alumnus Helps in the Fight Against COVID-19

Credit: Lee Roop, lroop@al.com. Dr. Jeffrey Wisotzkey ’82 is working on COVID-19 testing at Diatherix, a company in Huntsville, Alabama.

People from a variety of disciplines and backgrounds around the world have been coming together to work to slow the spread of COVID-19, the novel coronavirus. Scientists have been a key part of the fight against this pandemic. 

Dr. Jeffrey Wisotzkey ’82 is using his Delaware Valley University biology degree to contribute to this fight against COVID-19. He’s the chief scientific officer and laboratory director at Diatherix, a company in Huntsville, Alabama, that is working on improving testing for COVID-19. 

Dr. Wisotzkey said DelVal “opened his eyes to the world of biology and molecular biology.”

“The nature of the education at DelVal was perfect for me because the professors were good and you could interact with them one-on-one,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “When I got to graduate school, I already knew what I needed to know to be prepared.”

After graduating from DelVal’s biology program, he went on to earn his Ph.D. in molecular biology from the University of Houston where he worked in the laboratory of Dr. George Fox, one of the co-discoverers of Archaea. He also completed a postdoctoral fellowship in molecular oncology at the Penn State Health Milton S. Hershey Medical Center.

His laboratory announced on March 17 that it had, “developed a highly sensitive and specific assay for the SARS-CoV-2 virus that is the cause of the COVID-19 respiratory infection.

The COVID-19 test can be processed the day they receive the specimen in the laboratory and have results by the afternoon. It also provides a physician with a bigger, more comprehensive clinical picture. 

“We developed this test as part of our regular respiratory testing panel,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “The physician could order the COVID-19 test at the same time as other tests. We can test thousands of samples a day. Physicians order the test, collect a respiratory specimen by swab and send it by courier or FedEx for morning to afternoon testing."

The new test is already being used by physicians from a wide variety of areas in the U.S. according to Dr. Wisotzkey.

“Thousands of tests a day are coming in,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. 

Diatherix started the complex process of developing the test as soon as the first genomic sequence of the virus was published out of China.

“It was all hands on deck,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “As soon as the first sequence came out from China, we started designing and developing our test. We had to make sure it was accurate and sensitive. The timeline from concept to going live was about two months.”

Providing fast, accurate results that would give a physician as much information as possible were the main goals of the project. 

“The faster the clinicians have the result the faster they can understand what they’re dealing with and guide people on the behaviors they need to change to slow the spread,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “Many times, it is not COVID-19. That can be very important to know to direct the best course of treatment.”

Dr. Wisotzkey said he’s proud of how his team came together to help with a crisis. 

 “The most rewarding part is that we’re part of the solution,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “We’re doing our part. We’re able to help out in this crisis. The other rewarding part is the challenge of developing technology for use in the lab. Having the team develop this as quickly as we did is one of the most rewarding things I have been a part of.” 

As the next generation of scientists faces disrupted academic years and challenges as students, he offered these words of advice. 

“The nature of a science career is that you will be required to pivot and meet obstacles,” said Dr. Wisotzkey. “This pandemic will calm down and when it does it will just be something you remember that happened in 2020.” 

For more information, please visit eurofins-diatherix.com/covid-19/.