In the news
April 9, 2021
As co-director of Mayo Clinic’s Neuroimmunology Laboratory, John Mills, Ph.D., doesn’t have job responsibilities that normally entail hands-on lab work. And as a neuroimmunologist whose research centers on antibody screening for neuroimmunological disorders, his testing focus has little to do with emerging viruses.
When COVID-19 struck last year, however, Dr. Mills’ experience working with live cell bio-assays propelled him to center stage in Mayo Clinic’s pursuit of developing a test to neutralize COVID-19 antibodies and aid in the development of therapies derived from donated plasma of COVID-19 patients.
“We were excited to be tasked with this project, in part, because there was no testing like it in the U.S. at the time, making it intriguing,” says Dr. Mills, whose experience was recently featured Mayo Clinic Alumni magazine. “I enjoy a challenge.”
Under normal circumstances, such a test takes about a year to develop and validate. Dr. Mills and his team brought forward the new test in less than two months. The initial plan for the neutralizing antibody test was to support the Food and Drug Administration’s Convalescent Plasma Expanded Access Program, which Mayo Clinic oversaw, by determining the utility of convalescent plasma treatment.
As soon as the test was validated, Mayo Clinic began testing thousands of samples — 1,000 in the first month, 5,000 the following three weeks, 10,000 the two weeks after that. “It was a crazy time, trying and wanting to meet all of the government’s expectations,” Dr. Mills says. “I’d never experienced such a high-pressure situation in my career. Most people would describe me as calm. I didn’t feel that way on the inside.”
Although the experience found Dr. Mills wearing a hat he’d not donned in several years, working in the lab gave him a chance to return to his roots. “I come from a scientific background, but I don’t actually get to do the science myself anymore,” he says. “I felt that old scientific curiosity boil up to the surface. It felt good to know I still have the passion to put on a lab coat — and a face shield, in this case — and do the bench work that drives science.”
Read the full Mayo Clinic Alumni article here.