In the news
April 2, 2021
As director of Mayo Clinic’s Infectious Disease Serology Lab for the past eight years, Elitza Theel, Ph.D., applies exacting evaluation standards to all assays that are considered for implementation in the lab. During her tenure, Dr. Theel has evaluated between 60 and 70 antibody tests, specializing in diagnostic tests for vector-borne infectious diseases.
In early 2020, when COVID-19 emerged and, along with it, hundreds of diagnostic assays, Dr. Theel applied those same rigorous evaluation standards to test the adequacy of all the available serological antibody assays to identify the best screening test for use in her lab. Within the course of just four months, Dr. Theel and her team assessed 15 different commercially available assays.
On April 6, 2020, the months of seemingly non-stop work culminated when Mayo Clinic’s first COVID-19 antibody test — the first commercial antibody test in the nation — was implemented. “Our tremendous efforts to validate a test under the very tight timeline paid off,” says Dr. Theel, who was recently featured in Mayo Clinic Alumni magazine.
Eleven months later, Mayo Clinic Laboratories had performed more than 260,000 COVID-19 antibody tests across the internal practice and reference laboratory. Antibody tests aren’t commonly used to diagnose illness — the information gleaned from these tests measures the body’s antibody response to the virus and has several applications. Helping others understand the actual purpose of antibody testing, dispelling misconceptions, and contextualizing how results might be used propelled Dr. Theel into the national spotlight.
“At one point, I was doing four to six national media interviews per day,” she says. “Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine there would be so much interest in antibody testing about anything. My friends actually started calling me the Queen of Serology as a result of all the media attention.”
For Dr. Theel, however, the most remarkable aspect of the fast-paced testing implementation has been the teambuilding it’s engendered. “We always talk about teamwork, but we’ve never been put through the wringer or tested to the degree we were in this situation,” she says. “This experience has made it very clear that we have the right people in the right positions.”
Read the full Mayo Clinic Alumni story here.