4 months ago

Huntsville’s Diatherix a national leader in cutting-edge COVID-19 testing technology

When reliable testing for COVID-19 became a national priority earlier this year, one company in Huntsville was already set up to take on a leading role.

Diatherix was equipped to offer testing through its cutting-edge technology, and it was able to do so in a way conducive to effective treatment of the virus by providing same-day results.

An infectious disease clinical laboratory located in the HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology, Diatherix provides testing capabilities for doctors’ offices, hospitals, reference labs and nursing homes.

In a recent conversation with Yellowhammer News, Diatherix president Jennifer Cart described her company’s role in confronting the coronavirus pandemic.

“We essentially provide a laboratory service so that physicians can more accurately diagnosis their patients,” said Cart. “We are squarely seated in this rapid, providing of same day results for the specimen so we are giving very timely and accurate information in infectious diseases.”

Having been in business since 2008, that role is reflected in the company’s name, which Cart explained represents “where diagnostics meet therapeutics.”

While conventional laboratories provide more generalized testing on a broader range of specimens, Diatherix’s more tailored focus allowed it to rise to the occasion on the front-end of the COVID-19 outbreak in March.

“We are very uniquely specialized in infectious disease, and our proprietary technology is a very high-throughput multiplex that makes us able to run a high volume of specimens with multiple results,” outlined Cart.

The team at Diatherix began its assessment of the coronavirus in December 2019, according to Cart. This early evaluation allowed the company to hit the ground running when the need arose for mass testing.

“Because we are focused on infectious disease, we are always monitoring for emerging pathogens, so this was not our first emerging pathogen,” she remarked. “We have seen in the past MERS, which came from UAE, the Middle East. We are always looking and watching, and then we make determinations whether or not we think it is going to be a player in the United States such that we would need to develop the assay.”

That understanding brought about a testing procedure, or assay, in record time.

“In our history this was probably our fastest launch of a new assay because we actually have it as part of a very complex group of other viruses so we could right off the bat determine if it was COVID or flu right out of the gate,” said Cart. “We already had that capability in March. Everybody has been talking about having that now, having it for the fall. We have already been positioned for that and been able to run results since then.”

Since March, there have been 8.8 million coronavirus cases in the United States. Alabama has seen a little over 160,000 confirmed cases in that same period.

The volume of work at Diatherix has matched the country’s case counts throughout the year.

“From March through July, it was on a very rapid, accelerated incline,” Cart noted. “We then hit a bit of a stabilization in August and September. We are back to what I would not say as rapid of an incline, but a steady incline.”

The nation’s peak for new case counts occurred July 24 when 74,710 new cases were registered with the Center for Disease Control (CDC). Reported daily cases dipped to 23,301 on September 8. The United States hit a new daily high on October 24 when the CDC registered 83,851 new cases.

Without revealing specific internal data, Cart estimates that Diatherix has averaged around 100,000 tests per month, a figure which puts the company on track to process more than one million coronavirus tests by the end of 2020.

Heavily reliant on overnight shipping, specimens have arrived in Huntsville from providers across the country.

As an example, Cart recalled the work Diatherix did for numerous drive-thru testing sites in states like Michigan, Tennessee and Florida. The process, she said, was no different than a normal physician’s office except they received 300 to 400 specimens per day from places which would normally send them five.

To handle the volume, the layout of the facility had to change. The basement was cleared, and packages were routed down there for opening and specimen transport to the labs.

Even with state-of-the-art equipment and proprietary testing processes, Cart points to a single aspect of the company which has allowed Diatherix to weather an unprecedented strain this year.

“People are our greatest asset,” she emphasized.

Since the beginning of the year, Diatherix has hired 100 new employees, placing the company’s personnel total at 250.

“It is all hands on deck,” said Cart. “First of all, our lab, our R&D team and our client services has been consistently working since developing the test and running the test. There have been no breaks. It’s a pounding intensity that has been relentless and has not stopped.”

The paperwork that accompanies such a high volume of specimens has been daunting. Employees were called to fill multiple roles to handle more than 20,000 documents received daily.

“We had people outside of their normal job, and everyone still had their normal job to do, doing that just so we could get the results out,” explained Cart. “Because we know how important it is to have the same day results at the time when many labs are doing five, six, seven, ten days waiting for the results, which becomes less useful information to the physician once it gets past the date of collection.”

A graduate of the University of Florida, Cart mentioned to one of Diatherix’s employees, who was a native Alabamian, how impressed she was with the way the team was handling the increased workload during the COVID crisis.

“She replied to me, ‘That’s what we call hard stock,’” recollected Cart.

That can-do attitude prevalent among Diatherix’s employees has made quite an impression on the company’s leader.

“It brings tears to my eyes to think about what our employees have given up to be there every day, to do what we need to do not only for the company but for the state and for the country in the pandemic,” Cart remarked. “Their kids are at home getting home-schooled by their spouse or their with grandparents. We have done everything we can to support them but ultimately they are really carrying this company and carrying us forward. It will be something that, in my career I’ve learned a lot as a leader, but the biggest impact to me is how I’ve seen these employees and the people. I can’t even describe it. It is hard stock is the best way to put it.”

The United States has seen a surge in coronavirus infections during October, and several European countries are renewing lockdowns.

A forward-looking approach has helped Diatherix prepare for whatever is next in the fight against COVID-19, according to Cart.

“We have already been making changes,” she outlined. “As part of our normal process, with viruses in particular, viruses can mutate. They call it antigenic shift. We are always blasting the viruses, not just SARS-CoV-2, but influenza A, B, anything that essentially could have viral antigenic shift, and watching for that. We are always monitoring for the need to put in a different sequence or different target for our assay to be even more robust.”

As Cart and her team move forward, they see no signs of letting up, themselves.

“The ramp up has been all-consuming but we have been able to produce same-day results as we receive our specimens,” Cart concluded. “In today’s time, with everybody targeting 48 hours, the fact that we can essentially provide the results the day we receive them is still a feather in the Diatherix cap in comparison to all the other labs.”

Tim Howe is an owner of Yellowhammer Multimedia

2 hours ago

Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator taking applications for 2021 class

Startups from around the world are encouraged to apply for the Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator 2021 class.

In its second year, the innovative program, located in Birmingham, seeks early-stage startups focused on emerging energy technologies. Areas of interest include smart cities, electric grid resiliency and sustainability, industrial electrification, connectivity and electric transportation.

The class will run for 13 weeks and include 10 companies. Through their participation in Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator, startups will receive seed investment, business coaching and mentorship through Techstars’ worldwide network of business leaders.

152

At the end of the 90 days, the program will culminate in Demo Day, a public pitch event on Dec. 9.

“We had a fantastic first year, made successful through the hard work and creativity of our inaugural class, even during a pandemic,” said Nate Schmidt, Techstars Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator’s managing director. “If you have an energy tech startup, you simply don’t want to miss out on the amazing opportunities and relationships this accelerator will provide your business.”

Techstars Alabama is supported by Alabama Power, the Economic Development Partnership of Alabama, the Alabama Department of CommerceAltecPowerSouth and the University of Alabama. They play a key role in the accelerator process, with the common goal of growing the number of startup companies based in Alabama and making the area a hub of innovation activity.

The application deadline is May 12. For more information, visit the Alabama EnergyTech Accelerator program page at Techstars.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

3 hours ago

VIDEO: Gov. Ivey extends mask mandate, lottery could be an option as gambling bill languishes, Merrill backs off ‘no excuse’ absentee balloting and more on Alabama Politics This Week …

Radio talk show host Dale Jackson and political consultant Mecca Musick take you through Alabama’s biggest political stories, including:

— Did Governor Kay Ivey make the right decision when she extended the mask mandate?

— Is the Alabama Legislature going to look to move forward with the lottery if they can’t get a more comprehensive gambling bill?

— Why did Secretary of State John Merrill support and then retract his support for “no excuse” absentee voting?

94

Jackson and Musick are joined by Matt Murphy of Talk 99.5 in Birmingham to discuss the issues facing the state of Alabama this week.

Jackson closes the show with a “Parting Shot” at Alabama Democratic Party Chairman and State Representative Chris England (D-Tuscaloosa) for not following through on his plan to make the party more relevant in Alabama.

Dale Jackson is a contributing writer to Yellowhammer News and hosts a talk show from 7-11 AM weekdays on WVNN and on Talk 99.5 from 10AM to noon.

6 hours ago

Mo Brooks: Stopping H.R. 1, amnesty keys to winning in 2022 midterms — ‘Then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden’

FLORENCE — With the third month of the 117th Congress now underway, House Democrats have pushed forward in their efforts to pass H.R. 1, which would impose so-called reforms to the country’s voting system.

Also among the priorities for Democrats, who control the White House, House and Senate, are immigration measures that could include amnesty for illegal aliens.

During an appearance at the Shoals Republican Club on Saturday, U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Huntsville) panned those efforts and said he hoped to stymie the progress of House Democrats on those two fronts.

167

Brooks told those in attendance that if Republicans could prove successful in those efforts, it would set the GOP up for wins in the 2022 midterm elections and hamstring President Joe Biden’s push to promote a left-of-center agenda.

“We’ve got to stop H.R. 1, and we’ve got to stop the amnesty and citizenship that Joe Biden has promised,” he said. “If we do those two things, then we’re going to take back the House in 2022. I hope we will take back the Senate in 2022. And then we will be able to neuter Joe Biden over the next two years if we control the House and Senate and set the stage as well for us taking back the White House in 2024 with whoever our nominee may be.”

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and the University of South Alabama, the editor of Breitbart TV, a columnist for Mobile’s Lagniappe Weekly, and host of Mobile’s “The Jeff Poor Show” from 9 a.m.-12 p.m. on FM Talk 106.5.

8 hours ago

2021 Birmingham Heart Walk goes virtual

COVID-19 has forced many nonprofits to shift gears in their fundraising efforts and the American Heart Association (AHA) is no exception. The AHA’s 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk has been reimagined as a digital experience this year to maintain necessary safety protocols due to the ongoing pandemic.

Through the event design, AHA is striving to get more people moving in Birmingham while continuing to raise life-saving funds and keep participants safe in the process. The Birmingham Heart Walk is Saturday, June 12, from 9-11 a.m. and participants can walk from anywhere.

Leading up to the event, participants are encouraged to track their activity through the “Move More Challenge” using the free Heart Walk activity tracker app that can be downloaded from Apple or Google Play. Once registered, users have 30 days to log minutes, and any activity counts. Top movers and fundraisers will be recognized on Heart Walk day.

270

“The American Heart Association holds a special place in my heart,” said Southern Company Vice President of Technology David Coxwho will chair the walk for the second time. “They have done so much for my family and for my daughter, Emily, who was born with multiple congenital heart defects. I’m pleased to partner with this outstanding organization in their efforts help our community connect and stay active as we adapt to this virtual world.”

More than 600,000 Americans die each year from heart disease, and the risks have only been compacted by the pandemic. Among COVID-19 hospitalizations, 40% are heart or stroke patients, so this year, donations from the Heart Walk will help fast-track COVID-19 research and train front-line workers in addition to the many other research projects and resources funded by the AHA.

Fundraising and activities for the Heart Walk are beginning to ramp up as the warmer months approach.

“Now is the time to sign up, lace up and start fundraising for the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk,” said Hannah Carroll, Heart Challenge director of the Birmingham AHA. “Signing up now ensures you won’t miss any of the fun this year, like Rally Days and our new activity tracker.”

On Feb. 18, Cox hosted a virtual kickoff for business leaders in the Birmingham area who will be fielding teams at this year’s Heart Walk. He encouraged counterparts to begin their fundraising efforts by saying, “We’re here for a reason – to fight for a world of longer, healthier lives.”

To view Emily’s story, click here. To learn more about the 2021 Birmingham Heart Walk or to create a team, click here.

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

11 hours ago

Schoolyard Roots growing stronger, smarter kids in Alabama

When kids participate in the life of a garden, they see the complete cycle of growing food, cooking and preparing it to eat. School gardens are exciting places for kids to learn basic academic subjects, too.

The Tuscaloosa community came together more than 10 years ago to develop a garden-based learning program called the Druid City Garden project, now called Schoolyard Roots.

Schoolyard Roots employs a full-time teaching staff that provides garden lessons for students, as well as professional development training for teachers. The school gardens provide an outdoor experience rare to many students. They are more likely to make healthy choices and try new foods. Students gain a sense of responsibility, to collaborate and work together as a team.

297

“When we see a child’s health and education improve, we know that we’re not only investing in that child’s life today – we’re helping them build a better future,” said Nicole Gelb Dugat, interim executive director. “Schoolyard Roots builds community through food. By increasing access to fresh, locally grown produce, we empower our community to make healthy and sustainable food choices.”

In March 2020, the impact of COVID-19 significantly affected the teaching community. Almost immediately, the Schoolyard Roots team began distributing produce from its gardens directly to local families. By the end of last year, the program had distributed more than 750 pounds of fresh garden vegetables to the community.

“We stewarded our gardens as fresh-air sanctuaries, where children and adults could relax, refocus and reconnect,” said Dugat. “Through it all, we shared vegetables and flowers. We cultivated moments of peace and learned together. We could not have done any of it without our incredible community of supporters.”

They found hope and inspiration in the small miracle of seeds planted by the students. Gardens bring joy, peace and courage in times of struggle. And gardens remind us to have hope for new growth and what is to come.

Schoolyard Roots partners with Tuscaloosa-area elementary schools to bring learning to life through teaching gardens. The nonprofit works in 11 elementary schools across Tuscaloosa County.

Its mission is to build healthy communities through food with the Gardens 2 Schools program.

Gardens support and encourage healthful eating as a key component of children’s physical wellbeing, which can aid their academic and social success, too. The garden is woven through many aspects of a school’s curriculum and adapted for different grade levels.

“The Gardens 2 Schools program cultivates curiosity,” Dugat said. “The program teaches the students how to work together (and) learn self-reliability and compassion.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)