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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, New Mexico State University faced many unprecedented challenges. While a few factors remain uncertain, a new partnership has created several positive outcomes, along with future opportunities that will help faculty and students involved in research.
This summer, Albuquerque-based TriCore Reference Laboratories established a branch lab at NMSU. To date, it has processed more than 15,000 COVID-19 tests.
Because of the partnership with TriCore, this fall NMSU was also able to initiate large-scale testing for the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 as part of a random sample study by a group of interdisciplinary researchers seeking to understand the prevalence of the virus in the campus community.
“When we met with the New Mexico Department of Health in early spring 2020, we asked what could NMSU do to assist with testing,” said Jim Murphy, associate dean of research for the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences.
Murphy said along with processing COVID-19 tests at the branch lab and the random sample study, NMSU is conducting research on wastewater testing for early detection of COVID-19. NMSU also participated in a science summit with TriCore and the Burrell College of Osteopathic Medicine. Those involved with the branch lab are also looking to future research.
TriCore’s Chief Medical Officer Dr. Douglas Clark said, “Research is foundational to TriCore and part of our core mission. This partnership opens up opportunity for research collaboration in multiple areas, such as data analytics, population health and healthcare service delivery to meet unmet needs.”
“We are looking forward from a science perspective. This pandemic won’t last forever, but we want our partnership with TriCore to last,” Murphy said. “We need to prepare for what’s next.”
Luis Cifuentes, NMSU vice president for research and dean of the Graduate School, said while the pandemic impacted the lives of millions of people globally, it also changed the university.
“Many of us have been at home, teaching courses online and managing to keep our research going. When we return to campus, we will return to a university that is different from what it was in March of 2020,” Cifuentes said. “Much work and many helped make this happen. We’ve been meeting three times a week to monitor progress, and we include Chancellor Dan Arvizu, who has been in on this from the very beginning. You don’t often see that level of high leadership involvement at other universities.”
He added that before the pandemic briefly closed the university, there was limited clinical diagnostic lab work on campus, including the Food Safety Laboratory. The partnership with TriCore has created new opportunities for clinical work and research, including student research.
“Thanks to the hard work of many NMSU faculty and administrators and TriCore scientists, we now have a partnership that will safeguard the health of our community, not just from COVID-19, but from a broad range of infectious disease threats,” said NMSU Regents Professor of Biology Kathryn Hanley. “This partnership also augments the research capabilities of NMSU and enables our scientists to engage in a variety of studies of human and animal health that were previously out of reach.”
“I think the NMSU and TriCore partnership may facilitate opportunities for population studies that include objective biologic markers of exposures and outcomes,” said Jill McDonald, epidemiologist and associate dean of research and community engagement for the NMSU College of Health and Social Services. “These studies could focus on topics ranging from prevention of health disparities to assessment of the quality of self-reported data. Such funded studies could support students as part of the research team.”
NMSU is receiving funding from the New Mexico Department of Health to support the lab, which is currently housed in Foster Hall but will eventually move to a larger space.
TriCore Reference Laboratories is an independent, not-for-profit, clinical reference laboratory co-sponsored by Presbyterian Healthcare Services and University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center. TriCore provides more than 2,900, full-service, state-of-the-art laboratory tests to healthcare professionals and their patients.
TriCore also provides analytics and research services, supporting healthcare and scientific organizations worldwide. TriCore’s Rhodes Group offers laboratory software and consulting services to optimize clinical laboratory operations, including empowering population health management and targeted intervention strategies. For more information, visit tricore.org.