CHARLESTON — Eastern Illinois University faculty recently teamed together to help Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center and community members by making viral transport media, an agent that stabilizes specimens while they are being sent to laboratories for testing.

Sarah Bush Lincoln reported in a press release that the media is a formula that includes antibiotics to inhibit bacterial and fungal growth, without affecting viruses, and is necessary to collect specimens for COVID-19 testing.

EIU Biological Sciences Department chair and professor Gary Bulla and his team used the procedure published by the CDC and made enough of the viral transport media for 3,400 COVID-19 collection kits. These items are scheduled to be delivered this week to Sarah Bush Lincoln Laboratory, where they will be labeled and packaged with the pharyngeal swabs.

SBL Laboratory Director Jodie Warner, said EIU is fulfilling a real need because the viral transport media is primarily produced in Germany and Italy, and there is a global shortage. Warner said she appreciates the EIU faculty’s willingness to help the local medical community.

“Without the help of these good people, we would be more limited in our ability to collect specimens. This viral transport media is crucial to preserve the specimen as it is transported to a testing lab,” Warner said. She added that while SBL has supplies to collect more specimens, the same requirements for testing prevail.


Warner further explained that depending on the methods and equipment available to each laboratory, and where testing is performed, processing specimens can be labor intensive. She said that is often why the turnaround is days instead of hours.

The SBL laboratory director said it takes time for vendors to ramp up production of faster, more automated methods. She said improvements are being made, but the basic need still remains for collection supplies to obtain the specimens for testing.

"That is why we are so grateful to our EIU colleagues for the viral transport media," Warner said.

Bulla is not new to making media, as he makes it often for his classes and studies, but he had not made it for clinical use before.

“It’s good to be a part of the process and help our local hospital,” Bulla said. He added that making sterile media requires specific equipment, and EIU has this equipment.

Bulla’s team includes EIU Biological Sciences Department faculty Kai Hung and Sanghoon Kang; Chemistry and Biochemistry Department faculty Michael Beck, Gopal Periyannan and Edward Treadwell, and lab manager Maria Dust; and Health Services laboratory supervisor Roger Osthoff.