Bluegrass COVID-19 research partnership example of how community colleges meeting new challenges

0
733

VERSAILLES, Ky. (WTVQ) –  As COVID-19 changes lives, the 16 colleges of the Kentucky Community and Technical College System are meeting new challenges this year, proving they are an important part of their communities.

One example is Bluegrass Community and Technical College (BCTC) is partnering with TEC Biosciences, Inc. (TECbio) to further COVID-19 research.

- Advertisement -

“We are pleased to partner with our biotech community to provide equipment and facilities to support their research,” said Dr. Koffi Akakpo, BCTC president. “We want to assist in any way we can in these challenging times.”

TECbio, a Lexington-based biotech startup, is using a BCTC lab and equipment to further COVID-19 identification and research. Using the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) protocol, TECbio researchers are conducting tests within bio safety cabinets to identify coronavirus nucleic acid on sample swabs.

At no time will the lab or researchers be exposed to aerosolized virus. Testing is done within the appropriate safety environment as commended by the CDC. This testing will assist with identification of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky.

In addition, TECbio researchers will conduct genome sequencing studies with BCTC’s Illumina MiSeq machine, and the data obtained from these experiments will be useful in helping the vaccine development effort.

The MiSeq performs small scale genome sequencing analysis ideal for use on the genome of this novel coronavirus.

Patient samples will not be collected at BCTC. All public health measures that prohibit sick, exposed, or  individuals in contact with a person under investigation for coronavirus are in place to keep these individuals from being on site.

Research will conclude and CDC approved cleaning and sterilization will take place before students or employees return to campus.

During April, which is Community College Month, the KCTCS colleges are helping not only their students, but also others in the community through giving their time and resources.

As hospitals and other medical providers needed equipment for current or future patients, all 16 colleges stepped up to donate personal protective equipment along with beds and ventilators.

Colleges use these items in nursing, respiratory therapy and other health care programs. Students are volunteering their services to local hospitals and some are making masks at home.

Additionally, colleges that offer 3D printing programs are using their 3D printers to create face shields for local hospital staff. Some faculty members are making face shields from home as well.

Faculty are stepping up in other ways, too. For example, a commercial driver’s license (CDL) instructor took a tractor and trailer to pick up produce in another state and deliver it to a local organization.

A college also offered lab space to a local bioscience research company to identify coronavirus nucleic acid on sample swabs. This testing will assist with identification of COVID-19 cases in Kentucky. In addition, researchers will conduct genome sequencing studies with the college’s equipment and the data obtained from these experiments will be useful in helping the vaccine development effort.

Because many KCTCS students have food insecurity, all 16 colleges created food pantries over the last several months. Even though students are not on campus, pantries are stocked, and students are receiving necessary food, personal care items and school supplies. One college partnered with a local grocery store to provide $25 gift cards for students.

“Even in the face of extensive changes to the way our students, faculty and staff work and learn during these unprecedented times, they continue to be leaders in their communities,” KCTCS President Jay K. Box said. “There are many reasons to love community colleges, but our people are the number one reason.”