Diagnostic beyond our naked eyes: CGHMC Institute of Pathology our Unsung Heroes

It was the dawn of 2019 when Covid-19 disease caused by Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – Coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) started to spread as an outbreak and documented in Wuhan China, and was subsequently declared as a pandemic on March 11, 2020 by the World Health Organization (WHO). The Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center (CGHMC) has been one of the earliest institutions in the Philippines to set-up a molecular testing laboratory for viral isolation and identification in the hope to serving the public. When the first nationwide lockdown was announced on March 16, 2020 due to pandemic spread, the CGHMC Institute of Pathology laboratory staff and personnel started to prepare the necessary documents and requirements as prescribed by the Department of Health (DOH) needed to operate a molecular laboratory by reverse-transcriptase polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR/qPCR) technology as early as March 22, 2020. Together with the brimming support of the hospital administration, the CGHMC molecular laboratory had its first proficiency testing done on April 9, 2020, followed by an in-house validation from April 9 to 10, 2020, with subsequent release of License to Operate (LTO) by the DOH on April 15, 2020. Within this short and tight amount of time, the molecular laboratory of CGHMC started to deliver and cater patients for testing SARS-CoV-2 infection. During the early hit of the pandemic, the CGHMC molecular laboratory was able to perform and deliver up to 2000 reportable tests per day. With acquisition of new additional diagnostic instruments such as GeneXpert, FilmArray, and BD max, the CGHMC molecular laboratory now has the capacity to detect multiple microbial infections simultaneously with an absolute high sensitivity and specificity of less than 3-hour turnaround time, providing fast and reliable results and translating to less amount of waiting time.

On August 2020, CGHMC had its in-house validation for SARS-CoV-2 saliva RT-PCR testing, with its official application for accreditation to the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) and DOH. On May 25, 2021, the official certificate of accreditation for saliva testing was released. Simultaneous with saliva testing, CGHMC also applied for pooled testing where an official certification of accreditation was released on April 12, 2021.

With the continuous and overwhelming support by the CGHMC administration, the molecular laboratory extends its service to cancer genetics. Single gene mutational testing for KRAS, NRAS, BRAF, and tissue and plasma EGFR mutations are now available in-house. The roster of molecular tests has been expanded even more with partnership to well-known international molecular laboratories such as FoundationOne CDx/Foundation Medicine, Invitae, Lucence Diagnostics, and Reliance Life Sciences.

With the explosion of molecular testing in this era, CGHMC molecular laboratory personnel has always been the silent heroes in a continuous mission of expanding its molecular testing menu to serve the public and diagnose diseases for patients’ optimal therapeutic management.