Fighting COVID-19 in the Lab

By Grace Collins ’23, January 11, 2021
Sarah Griffin ‘20 is helping to manufacture rapid COVID-19 antigen tests.

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to sweep across the country, scientists are working around the clock to devise better tactics to stem the tide, including rapid testing.

That gives people like recent IC graduate Sarah Griffin ’20 a chance to be on the front lines of the fight against the virus. Griffin started working as a technical manufacturing chemist for Abbott Laboratories, a global medical device and health care company, in Westbrook, Maine, just four days after graduating from IC with a degree in biology.

“It's a very fortunate time to be a scientist,” she says.

What I do may only be a small part of the larger operation, but I have already seen it helping people in my community, and hope that it will continue to do so.”

Sarah Griffin ‘20

In her role, Griffin spends the majority of her day in the lab combining components and manufacturing solutions that bind to the spike proteins on the coronavirus. The solutions are used to produce Abbott’s BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card Rapid Antigen Test.

Rapid antigen tests like the BinaxNOW COVID-19 Ag Card are important because they’re an affordable and fast alternative to PCR tests. While PCR tests work to detect the DNA of the coronavirus and can take several days, rapid antigen tests can produce a result in 15 minutes. Additionally, the BinaxNOW COVID-19 test can be administered both at home and in a medical setting, making COVID-19 testing more accessible to people all across the country.

“The raw components I use to create different solutions could be something as simple as a sugar or it could be a really fancy antibody,” she says. “I'll measure and calculate volumes I need, and sometimes we’ll adjust the pH or filter things. It’s all very organized, and there’s lots of paperwork to make sure we don’t make any mistakes.”

“A lot of the skills that I use in the workplace are very hands on and can't be taught in a lecture, but I did learn a lot of it through labs. The lectures are what made me — and kept me — interested in science.”

Sarah Griffin ‘20

BinaxNOW COVID-19 is a lateral flow test, meaning that if a patient tests positive, the solutions Griffin creates will result in a sample line lighting up on a testing strip.

Griffin’s favorite part of her work at Abbott is feeling like she’s doing something to help the world in a time of unprecedented uncertainty. “Combined with the vaccine and sustained preventative measures, rapid testing is going to be a big part of ending this pandemic. What I do may only be a small part of the larger operation, but I have already seen it helping people in my community and hope that it will continue to do so,” she said.

This isn’t Griffin’s first time working to use science for good. While at IC, she interned every summer in an infectious disease lab, doing diagnostic testing and animal diagnostics. She also worked with Andrew Smith, professor of biology, in his lab doing research on the adhesive properties of slug mucus. The goal of their research is to learn how the bonding works in order to one day create a slug-inspired synthetic adhesive that could be used to replace staples and stitches in medical settings. She says these experiences helped her land her current role at Abbott Labs.

“I even listed several professors as references on my resume, and they were all very willing to help. It’s a nice feeling when people care about you and want you to succeed.”

Sarah Griffin ‘20

She credits IC’s biology and chemistry departments with giving her both the hands-on practice and classroom knowledge to be successful in the workplace. 

“A lot of the skills that I use in the workplace are very hands on and can't be taught in a lecture, but I did learn a lot of it through labs,” she said. “The lectures are what made me — and kept me — interested in science. I even listed several professors as references on my resume, and they were all very willing to help. It’s a nice feeling when people care about you and want you to succeed.”