Testing, Testing, COVID-19

Recent alumnus using lab skills to detect coronavirus

COVID Testing

A lab at the Broad Institute, similar to the one where Thomas O’Connor, below, BS ’20, is currently working on test samples of COVID-19.

Story by Andrea Grant
Photographs courtesy of Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, Courtesy of Thomas O’Connor

Thomas O’Connor 

Every four days a clinician carefully observes Thomas O’Connor as he tests himself for the coronavirus. Then O’Connor changes gloves. He puts on a disposable gown, slips booties over his shoes. Next comes a mask, protective eyewear, and one final layer of gloves. Even his phone gets a special covering. He’ll wear this PPE for up to 12 hours a shift as he tests hundreds, sometimes thousands, of samples for COVID-19—painstaking and critical work in the fight against the pandemic.

Just a few months ago O’Connor, BS ’20, was finishing up his biology program at Suffolk and reparing to move to Dublin for a graduate program in molecular medicine. The global health crisis put those plans on hold.

Now he is part of a growing team using a technique called reverse transcription polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) to test samples for COVID-19 at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. It’s a process he first learned in Suffolk Professor Celeste Peterson’s Molecular Genetics course and then honed over two years while working in her research lab.

“This is so gratifying,” he says. “I can use the skills I learned at Suffolk and contribute to the pandemic efforts in a positive way.”

As O’Connor copes with the uncertainty of pandemic life, his work in the lab gives him both purpose and perspective.

“Every day when I come in there may be new automated machines, a new room replacing a room that was torn down the week before, or even new people joining the team to help us expand and reach our full potential,” says O’Connor.

“Seeing all these changes makes me excited to come into work the next day and makes me think, ‘All right, I’m ready for the next thing that’s going to be thrown at me.’”

Suffolk University Magazine

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