UPLB mobilizes for COVID-19 R&D and testing center establishment

UPLB has always stood at the ready to help in the areas of its expertise in the name of public service during times of great calamity, but the COVID-19 pandemic that is currently gripping the nation and the whole world may be its biggest challenge so far.

With this, the UPLB Office of the Chancellor formed Task Force Laban ng Bayan Kontra COVID-19 or LB Kontra COVID-19 under its supervision for the express purpose of providing assistance to the country’s efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic.

UPLB’s Task Force LB Kontra COVID-19 is composed of the following five committees: Committee for the Establishment of a COVID-19 Testing Center, Committee for Technology and Facility Innovation, Committee for Protocol Establishment, Committee for Research and Development, and the Committee for Knowledge Management.

The Committee on Establishment of the UPLB COVID-19 Testing Center will audit and assess Biosafety Level II (BSL2) laboratories in UPLB as possible test sites, ensuring that they will be ready for Stage 2 validation as required in the DOH accreditation process.

Alongside this, the committee will also recommend plans for succeeding levels of accreditation under the DOH protocol. This committee is chaired by Dr. Jessie Imelda Foronda-Walde, director of the University Health Service.

The Committee for Technology and Facility Innovation will coordinate all technological and logistical initiatives of UPLB units and constituents in relation to COVID-19.  Dr. Arnold Elepaño, dean of the College of Engineering and Agro-Industrial Technology, chairs this committee.

It has three sub-committees, namely: Supply Chain Management which will provide inventory of needed supplies for the testing center, implement patient surveillance and contact tracing via the UP-PGH web-based program, and ensure safety in handling and submission of test samples; Clinical Technology Development which will develop and fabricate mechanical ventilators and equipment for hospital safety such as face shields, intubation boxes, and testing booths; and Facility Development and Operation which will assist in the construction of quarantine facilities, sampling areas, waste medical materials incinerators, and mortality facilities, as well as develop faster and safer facilities for protocols such as thermal imaging and disinfection tents.

The Protocol Establishment Committee, chaired by Dr. Severina Exconde, research assistant professor at the National Institute of Molecular Biology and Biotechnology, will run parallel to the establishment of the COVID-19 testing center.

It will be responsible for drawing up guidelines to ensure safety and security, patient acceptance, analysis and disposal of samples, and over-all management and control.

It will adapt the guidelines already set and used by the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine, the main research arm of the DOH for the control of infectious and tropical diseases.

The Knowledge Management Committee takes charge of information security, as well as, manage the flow of relevant information to and from the public, especially regarding public consultations.

All technical information on the Task Force’s activities and outputs will be the responsibility of this committee that is  chaired by Dr. Mark Angelo Balendres, researcher and head of the Plant Pathology Laboratory at the Institute of Plant Breeding of the College of Agriculture and Food Science (CAFS).

Finally, the Research and Development Committee under Dr. Filomena Sta. Cruz, a faculty member at the CAFS Institute of Weed Science, Entomology, and Pathology will be looking at the long view of the situation. They will look into ways that UPLB can contribute to the fight vis-à-vis its research capabilities, such as increasing the production of enzymes that are needed to make the local test kits, refining patient tracing and tracking methods, and modeling projections and possible directions that the outbreak will take, for the benefit of local and national decision-makers.

UPLB Vice Chancellor for Research and Extension Rex Demafelis, who has been designated as the overall chair of Task Force LB Kontra COVID-19, said that as of now, the priority has been the establishment of a COVID-19 testing center capable of conducting both rapid tests and the gold-standard RT-PCR test.

“Layout design will be finished within the week, retrofitting of the laboratories will begin by next week. There will also be the need to get supplies, ensuring that all protocols are prepared; and conducting staff training,” Dr. Demafelis said.  “If everything proceeds smoothly, ideally by May testing can begin.” (Albert Geoffred B. Peralta)

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