University of Minnesota tackles COVID-19 pandemic

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At the University of Minnesota, it’s all hands on deck in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’re working on everything from lifesaving medical equipment to potential treatments to quicker tests for the disease. Some of the most brilliant innovators in the state are coming together.

University of Minnesota Medical School Dean Dr. Jakub Tolar said they’re tackling more than a dozen projects, all in an effort to slow the spread and even treat COVID-19.

Their multi-pronged approach includes mass equipment manufacturing, new and rapid diagnostic testing, clinical trials, clinical care, and continuing research on the coronavirus disease.

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"Our mission, our service is to Minnesotans across the state, not to just to one hospital, not just to one group of people, but to everyone," said Tolar. "I am most proud of the people that stepped up and worked together."

The university is looking into blood and saliva testing that could show whether a person has or had COVID-19.

They’ve re-purposed the microbiology research facility and created a fully validated coronavirus test in five days. HIV laboratories are also set to receive, process and distribute all clinical research samples.

"We have emptied a full floor of the microbiology research building, called our own people and established, within 36 hours, a line of production," said Tolar.

They’re also working on randomized clinical trials to test if the infection can be prevented using Hydroxychloroquine, if the progression can be slowed down with Losartan, and if the severe infection can be treated with Remdesivir. Cell-based trials are also under development to treat the severe disease.

In a collaboration with the university’s Colleges of Engineering and of Design, the creation of new N-95 masks that can be mass-produced is in the works, as well. They’re also designing, testing and producing easy-to-build ventilators. Those prototypes are being tested, with 10 units under construction.

Meanwhile, the university is also preparing a COVID-19 hospital alongside Fairview Health Services. The facility will have at least 114 beds for patients.

"We owe it to Minnesotans and to the medical craft, mankind, to answer the questions as quickly as we can, as scientific as we can," said Tolar.