The UC Santa Cruz Genomics Institute began plans for a diagnostic lab several years ago when our work with partner medical schools revealed the clear need to apply Treehouse RNA-seq analysis of tumors at an earlier stage of a child’s diagnosis to improve their odds of recovery. Having a CLIA-certified facility that is authorized to test and return results to inform patient treatment could help save lives.

The Genomics Institute and Treehouse Cancer Initiative were in the early stages of planning for a pediatric cancer diagnostic lab when the 2019 pandemic hit. Because Treehouse Childhood Cancer Initiative's Olena Vaske had already gone through the work of obtaining a Clinical Laboratory Scientist license (required for performing tests in a diagnostic lab) and she and other members of the Genomics Institute had been doing research into CLIA certification, they were uniquely positioned to help the UC Santa Cruz campus and the larger Santa Cruz community by gaining emergency authorization to process diagnostic tests for Covid-19.

In May of 2019, less than two months after Santa Cruz County went on lockdown, the CCDL began running testing on campus. Having this testing facility on campus allowed us to perform regular bi-weekly testing on all students on campus. This prevented UC Santa Cruz from having even a single case of community spread by allowing campus to isolate infected students before they even knew that they were sick.

In July, the CCDL expanded testing to run tests for Santa Cruz County Health, Salud Para La Gente, and other community partners. At our height we were processing 5000 tests a week, and we were honored with the 2021 Phil Rather Award for Leadership in Healthcare and a Santa Cruz Works Hometown Heroes Award for our service in the community.

Over the course of the pandemic, we performed over 168,000 tests total, including 128,000 on the student population and 40,000 on patients from community partners.

Now that testing is more widely available, we are transitioning back to our original purpose of creating a pediatric diagnostic facility. The lab we developed to meet CLIA certification requirements during the pandemic and much of the equipment we purchased to help with diagnostic testing will be able to be repurposed as we move forward with this goal.