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How UC Berkeley IGI Became a COVID-19 Testing Lab in Three Weeks

The Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI) at UC Berkeley was founded in 2014 to uncover new innovations to solve healthcare issues and save lives. Nearly six years later, IGI is staying true to that mission. When the pandemic began impacting Berkeley, IGI decided to shift its entire operations to support members of the community with free COVID-19 testing.

Transforming the way IGI uses its lab space during a pandemic wasn’t easy. In addition to retraining staff, changing their physical space, and maintaining volunteer safety, IGI needed to quickly scale up their systems to process patient testing. To expand its capabilities, IGI turned to Salesforce to help manage inbound requests and outbound test results, and process over 1,000 patient tests a day.

We recently sat down with Dr. Jennifer Doudna at IGI to discuss how it has leveraged Salesforce to scale its testing operations quickly and keep its community safe and healthy:

Q. What is your role at UC Berkeley and tell us more about the trailblazing work you are doing for the university?

I’m a Professor of Molecular and Cell Biology and Chemistry at UC Berkeley, as well as Executive Director of the Innovative Genomics Institute (IGI). The IGI grew out of my work pioneering the use of CRISPR as a genome editing tool. CRISPR is a tool adapted from bacteria that allows scientists to precisely edit the genetic code of an organism. Back in 2014, IGI was a way to bring scientists at UC Berkeley and UCSF together to explore the use of these new genome editing tools to find solutions to healthcare issues. Today, the institute focuses on solving problems in medicine as well as agriculture, while continuing to develop the genome editing toolkit that scientists use around the world. We envision a world in which our innovations benefit humanity equitably and are accessible to all—that passion for real-world impact for all is what really drives us as an institute and as individuals.

Q. What are some of the challenges that IGI experienced when transforming part of the institute to support COVID-19 testing, and how are Salesforce technologies helping you solve these?

When I called an IGI meeting on March 13th to discuss how we could best serve the community during this crisis, setting up a testing lab quickly was the most obvious answer. The decision to launch a COVID-19 diagnostic testing lab was the easy part. The execution was difficult, often in ways we didn’t anticipate.

There was a lot to learn in a short amount of time. We had to transform our physical space. We had to take new precautions to ensure the safety of our volunteers. We brought in personnel to train our staff on how to work with patient samples and protect private information. And we had to quickly develop systems for securely processing and tracking patient-linked information, which is how we came to work with Salesforce. Normally, work like this and the necessary certifications to set up a clinical testing lab would take many months to set up, but we were able to do it in just three weeks because everyone was so focused on the task at hand.

We had a couple of big priorities that we needed to address when thinking about how we were going to develop a solution that helps connect doctors, scientists and patients. First, we needed a solution that was easy for doctors to use—understanding that doctors are in high demand and they don’t have the time to sit down and learn a complex system from the ground up. Second, we needed something that we could deploy immediately—we didn’t have the luxury of time, as testing was (and continues to be) in high demand. Last, we needed to ensure that patient data was kept secure and the platform was HIPAA-compliant. In one day, we built a Salesforce-enabled Healthcare Provider Portal that allows doctors to access tests and results, share important patient data with the lab and more.

Q. How did you use Salesforce’s low-code capabilities when building your COVID-19 systems, and what impact did that have for UC Berkeley employees and area residents being tested for the virus?

While we have a team of extremely smart scientists, this is the first time we’ve worked with Salesforce, so we relied on our partners at Third Wave Analytics and Salesforce to help us build everything out. They were able to leverage tools to automate our processes and create our Healthcare Provider Portal quickly. For the portal, Third Wave Analytics and Salesforce were able to build the prototype in a morning and demo it that afternoon to the City of Berkeley and LifeLong Medical, one of our healthcare partners. After that, they deployed the first version about a week later, and we have been incorporating suggestions for improvements from physicians since we launched.

Q. How do you see Salesforce’s low-code technologies helping IGI continue to meet evolving COVID-19 testing demands, and how should others in the scientific or medical fields look to leverage the technology?

Science has two speeds. Many will be familiar with the slow, gradual science that builds knowledge over time. But there’s also a very rapid speed that can happen when scientists come together behind a common goal, especially in a time of crisis. For times like this, you need tools that can be built quickly and adapted to the current need. The ability to develop a platform overnight and scale up to meet demand, no matter the size, was truly invaluable for us, and I can imagine so many different ways that similar solutions could be employed to help with comparable challenges from medicine to climate change.

Q. Are there any other creative or innovative solutions that IGI has implemented with the help of technology during COVID-19?

When we started doing the diagnostic testing work in our lab, we first had a team of volunteer scientists doing a majority of the lab work by hand. However, a manual process like this one is extremely difficult to scale, especially to meet the large need we found ourselves facing. We also have to factor in safety concerns with people in the lab during a pandemic. We knew early on that we would have to move to an automated robotic pipeline, which would help us maximize the number of tests we can perform in a day, while minimizing the number of people that need to be present.

Now, the samples that we track using the Salesforce platform are all scanned, analyzed and reported on by robots that can handle over 1000 tests per day. This was also something that required a lot of fast learning and a big team effort, but now we can scale up to meet the needs of UC Berkeley as well as help test the people most in need from our surrounding community, including first responders, nursing home residents, those experiencing homelessness and essential utility workers across California.

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Learn More About IGI’s COVID-19 Response


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