Mohamed Elasri Ph.D, director of Southern Miss’ Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, turned existing resources at The Accelerator Lab into testing centers for COVID-19 when the virus was first reported in Mississippi in March. Elasri is using his expertise in infectious diseases and cell and molecular biology to ensure COVID-19 tests conducted at Southern Miss’ Moffitt Health Center will produce results within 24 hours.
“We’ve repurposed our research capabilities and expertise into doing this clinical test, so it’s very familiar to us since we use these techniques in research,” Elasri said. “These are all things we do in our research programs at the Center for Molecular and Cellular Biosciences, and we are proud to have the ability to combat the virus’ spread in this way and assist our community during the pandemic.”
The tests conducted by the center are molecular PCR tests, which deals with microbes and isolating molecules. It is the most accurate test to date and the one recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In March, Elasri’s lab was helping the Hattiesburg Clinic with testing. As the fall semester neared and the clinic transitioned to a commercial testing service, Elasri began to shift his focus to solely assisting Southern Miss’ clinic on the Hattiesburg campus. COVID-19 tests taken at Moffitt Health Center will now be sent to Elsari’s lab located at The Accelerator, located four miles away from Southern Miss’ Hattiesburg campus.
Results will be available within 24 hours and the lab currently has the capacity to return 100 results each day. As of now, four full-time technicians are working in Elasri’s lab, and will be prepared to quickly increase test capacity once classes start on August 17.
Kayla Johnson, the Health Educator and Promotions Coordinator at the Moffitt Health Center, said the situation surrounding COVID-19 is continuously evolving, including how Southern Miss is responding to it.
“The benefit [of these tests] is that we can identify positive cases and close contacts of those cases in a more timely fashion which would then allow us to reach those individuals before they have the chance to expose more people,” Johnson said.
Johnson said the PCR test is the ‘gold standard’ for COVID-19 diagnostics since it is the most specific and sensitive test currently available.
“Having a 24-hour PCR result will allow the Moffitt Health Center to quickly diagnose and isolate positive cases,” Johnson said. “It will also allow quicker notification of close contacts of the positive cases in order for them to be tested and quarantined as well.”
Dee Dee Anderson Ph.D, the Vice President for Student Affairs, said Elasri’s laboratory, in partnership with the Moffitt Health Center, is integral to the health and safety of Southern Miss students.
“Streamlining the reporting on the Hattiesburg campus will allow us to enact our isolation plans quickly to help to mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” Anderson said.
The latest information about Southern Miss’ return to fall classes plan can be found at www.usm.edu/flight-plan.