How a biology professor and Chinese student brought rapid test kits from China to US

rapid test kits
The US has been facing a supply issue for rapid test kits, so this team from West Virginia stepped in.

Yijing Shen was the only Chinese student on campus when a unique opportunity emerged involving COVID-19 rapid test kits.

West Liberty University (WLU) alumnus Fred Kinder, who now owns medical device company eHealthcare, had caught wind of a machine and rapid test kit developed in China by Ustar. Ustar is a molecular diagnostic company based in Hangzhou — incidentally, where Yijing is from.

The test could detect pathogenic microbes in patient samples (nasal swabs, sputum, and other bodily fluids) in a matter of minutes.

By February, it was clear that the US needed to ramp up their testing capacities — fast. Kinder engaged his alma mater for help in applying for a US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) permit.

Before any of this could get started, a Ustar test report needed to be translated from Mandarin to English.

Lending a helping hand

rapid test kits

Yijing Shen is a public relations undergraduate from West Liberty University, originally from Huangzhou, China.

“I was working on campus during my last semester when the Director of Media Relations texted asking if I could help translate some documents,” Yijing told Study International.

While completing her public relations studies, Yijing worked with the News & Media Relations Department at WLU.

Not only was this her first time doing translation work in the US, but Yijing was also unfamiliar with the document’s contents.

“It was quite a challenge because there were so many scientific terms, and I am not a medical student. Thankfully, certain terms were already translated; I just cleaned it up to make it more readable,” she shares.

With the translated text and Ustar documentation, the permit application then moved to the technical portion of the approval bid. As it involved molecular biology, WLU biology professor Dr Joseph Horzempawas was called in to use his expertise.

Yijing had met Dr Horzempa once before. She interviewed him as a student journalist when he was named West Virginia Professor of the Year back in 2018.

But she would never have guessed that their paths would cross again under such urgent circumstances.

Getting rapid test kits to West Virginia

rapid test kits

Dr Joseph Horzempa was named West Virginia Professor of the Year in 2018.

Dr Horzempa had heard of the technology behind the Ustar rapid testing kits, but he still had to brush up on his knowledge for the FDA paperwork.

“The detection kits use isothermal nucleic acid amplification for detection of pathogenic microbes. This is a state-of-the-art test capable of rapidly detecting COVID-19 without the need for extracting the viral genetic material or any additional tedious steps,” he explained.

Similar kits already existed in the US, but so did pressing concerns on limited supply.

Dr Horzempa described how he had to “learn and understand the molecular biology behind the mechanism involved in these test kits” so as to provide accurate information to the FDA.

This joint effort between Kinder, Dr Horzempa, and Yijing speaks volumes about the value of interdisciplinary collaboration. In a time like this, every contribution counts, collaborations are key and differences must be played as strengths.

rapid test kits

People wait in line at one of the new walk-in COVID-19 testing sites in the Bronx, New York on April 20, 2020. Source: Timothy A. Clary/AFP

“Without Yijing’s help in translating the documents from Ustar, we would have been completely stuck… this just goes to show that diversity in advancing scientific discovery is crucial,” said Dr Horzempa.

FDA approved the shipment of the device and test kits to the US Thanks to their strong network of contacts within West Virginia, Dr Horzempa and Kinder also found a certified clinical lab to validate the Ustar machine and rapid test kits at Cabell Huntington Hospital.

Dr Horzempa believes this pandemic has shown how each one of us plays a role in public health.

My greatest takeaway from this is that if an opportunity to help presents itself, then say ‘yes’,” he said.

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