PNRI scientists are acutely aware that discoveries made in their labs today may not affect the lives of humans for many years, possibly even decades, to come.
A noteworthy example of this emerged late last month when Abbott Labs announced the FDA approval of a COVID-19 diagnostic test that can give results in as little as five minutes.
Discoveries today become the breakthroughs of tomorrow
The test is based on technology discovered by PNRI’s Dr. David Galas nearly 20 years ago. At that time, he was working with a grant to try to detect substances that might be used for bioterrorism, like anthrax.
“The funders were particularly interested in bio-terrorism but it could have been funded for entirely other reasons. It was the basic work that was supported that made the difference,” he said.
The test works by identifying a portion of the virus’ RNA in a patient’s sample. Getting results does not require a traditional lab setting — it uses small, portable boxes that are about the size of a toaster. They’ve already been testing for illnesses like the flu and strep throat for years, and now it will be able to give a positive result for coronavirus in about five minutes and a negative result in just under 15 minutes.
Dr. Galas said that beyond worried patients, the testing could be critical for researchers.
Time to strengthen support of research
“To understand the way in which the virus spreads and to be able to model and understand what is going to happen, we need data and we need a lot of data,” explained Dr. Galas, “and the United States has been way behind on getting enough data.”
Dr. Galas said it is gratifying to see the work become another tool in fighting the pandemic, but he said it also highlights how important it is for society to support basic biomedical research before it is needed.
“Funding new and novel things well before their time is really important.”
Visit the King5 website to view an interview with Dr. Galas and article about his innovative work.
“I believe finding mathematical methods to analyze genetic data has the power to transform how we prevent, treat, and cure disease.”
— David Galas, PhD
The Galas lab at the Pacific Northwest Research Institute (PNRI) focuses on computational biology and in developing laboratory technical methods like RNA sequencing. They develop new mathematical tools and methods to analyze the enormous amounts of complex data that are generated from the new technologies of biological research, like the genetic variants of the genome and a wide range of gene expression data.