RNA FISH to Visualize SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostics Project

Published by David B. Roth, MD, PhD, on April 22, 2020

April 22 Update: From the Chair

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

Today, we would be celebrating the third day into "Lab Week," but right now we are front and center as SARS-CoV2 molecular testing and serological testing are seen as critical elements, not only for patient care but also for getting our nation "back to work." And today, we would normally celebrate Administrative Professionals Day, which was designated as the last Wednesday of the last full week of April in 1955. I want to take this opportunity to thank our administrative staff for their tireless support: for connecting us, for their record-keeping, for their ability to clear obstacles, for finding us the concentrated time to focus on the important issues, and for the many other things they do for us.  

Some good news to report on the testing front. We are continuing to expand COVID-19 testing for patients at HUP and across the health system. Mark your calendars, too: in appreciation for health-care workers, 150 drones from Pennovation will put on a light show over HUP next Tuesday, April 28, at 8:30 PM.

The Institute for Regenerative Medicine (IRM) has rapidly awarded two Collaborative Research Grants (CRGs) for COVID-19 research, with assistance from the Departments of Bioengineering and Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, the Perelman School of Medicine, as well as philanthropic support. The projects will leverage the outstanding stem cell, bioengineering, and organoid work happening in labs across campus to answer key questions about SARS-CoV-2 and its cellular effects.

If there is one thing the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has made clear, it is the need for rapid diagnostics and viral therapeutics. The IRM project "Applications of RNA FISH to visualize SARS-CoV-2 for diagnostics and CRISPR screening for therapeutics" by principal investigators Drs. Sydney Shaffer and Sara Cherry (PLM), Ophir Shalem (Genetics), and Arjun Raj (Bioengineering) proposes the use of RNA fluorescence in situ hybridization (RNA FISH). The test involves using an ultra-rapid RNA FISH protocol in conjunction with microfluidics, which should identify viral RNA in the context of a microscopic image of the tissue. The test could potentially be used at the point of care as a rapid diagnostic, and there are many possible research applications. I am very grateful for the initiative of these principal investigators and their integrative efforts between medicine and engineering. Hopefully there will be many more such joint projects.

I also want to draw your attention to another effort by Penn's Positive Psychology Center (PPC). Karen Reivich, PPC's director of resilience training, teaches an online Coursera course "Resilience Skills in a Time of Uncertainty" that was made free and available to the public, starting today.

Finally, another helpful tip from around the world. The BBC spoke to a variety of people over the age of 90 for their insights on how to stay positive and to get through this crisis. Have a look at their video of Grandmas' Five Top Tips to Get through Lockdown.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and help others whenever you can.

David Roth

David B. Roth, MD, PhD, is the Simon Flexner Professor and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these blog columns are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.