A K.U. researcher in a lab coat holds a medical syringe with a gloved hand

Researchers from several departments on campus donated RNA purification kits to the state of Kansas after the secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment said the state may run out of tests for the coronavirus.

The University of Kansas donated nearly 20,000 RNA purification columns to the state of Kansas after Gov. Laura Kelly requested donations due to a shortage of tests for COVID-19.

Researchers from the department of molecular biosciences, department of chemistry, department of ecology and evolutionary biosciences, and the School of Pharmacy donated kits Monday, March 23, such as Qiagen, which the Science Advisory Board said are major suppliers of RNA purification kits.

The first step in testing for the coronavirus is to extract the RNA from the patient’s swab, which is what kits such as those produced by Qiagen are designed to do, said Simon Atkinson, the vice chancellor of research at the University.

“These kits are commonly used in molecular biology research labs and they’re also used in diagnostic labs,” Atkinson said. “The clinical labs have pretty strict requirements on what they can use for clinical testing, so we don’t know for sure that they’ll be able to use everything we sent them. But definitely some of what we sent they can use.”

Some of the kits donated were already opened or past their expiration date. Atkinson said these can still be used in research labs, though they may not be permissible in clinical labs.

On March 20, Lee Norman, secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment, said the state was running “precariously low” on tests for the coronavirus. Two days later, the Governor’s Office requested the University donate any test kits they may have, according to an email Atkinson sent to faculty and staff.

The state will be replacing all tests donated by the University, Atkinson said. 

Researchers at the University are looking to donate items they have available in their labs to the state such as face masks, disposable gowns and protective gloves, Atkinson said.

“We have labs that are thinking about all kinds of stuff,” Atkinson said. “We have machine shops on campus who are trying to figure out whether there’s equipment that they could make that might be helpful. And we have quite a few researchers who are actually doing research related to COVID-19.”

The University suspended all nonessential research on March 21, but Atkinson said individuals researching the coronavirus are continuing their work.

“It’s a difficult time for everybody,” Atkinson said. “We are trying to think of what we can do to help in this situation if we’re not able to keep going with our work.”

Edited by Cami Koons