Illinois Tech Re-opens Labs to Help State of Illinois With COVID-19 Testing

Researchers Partner with State Public Health Officials to Produce Tubes of VTM (Viral Transport Medium) Needed to Preserve Sample Swabs



CHICAGO -- Illinois Institute of Technology (Illinois Tech) researchers have reallocated university lab resources with the aim of being able to produce 13,000 tubes of VTM (viral transport medium) per week, the critical substance in the COVID-19 testing tubes that preserves sample swabs until testing, for the Illinois Department of Public Health.

Governor J. B. Pritzker announced the partnership with Illinois Tech, as well as other universities, at his Thursday press briefing. Over the last month, Pritzker said it had been difficult for state labs to obtain the VTM tubes and swabs, threatening the testing supply chain.

“Our university partners of Illinois Tech, Southern Illinois University in Carbondale and the University of Illinois at Chicago and University of Illinois-Urbana-Champaign, as well as outside vendors, have committed collectively to providing us with enough VTM and swabs that we can not only stock our state labs, but support additional labs throughout the state. This means even more specimens being taken for testing,” Pritzker said Thursday.

“Illinois Tech is honored to partner with the state of Illinois to help with this critical mission of COVID-19 testing,” said Illinois Tech President Alan W. Cramb. “We have special expertise and unique facilities that allow us to answer our state’s call by quickly coming together to mobilize our labs for the greater good.”

More than a dozen faculty, staff, and Ph.D. students are working in more than 10 labs at Illinois Tech’s Moffett Campus in Bedford Park, which houses the university’s Institute for Food Safety and Health (IFSH). Researchers began producing tubes of VTM on April 10 after the state of Illinois contacted the university for help.

“This is an excellent example of Illinois Tech’s interdisciplinary cooperation that will go on to have a critical impact on our society,” said Peter Kilpatrick, Illinois Tech provost. “Researchers from different microbiology-related departments and specialties quickly ramped up our labs for the benefit of our community’s public health.”

Researchers come from the Department of Food Science and Nutrition, Department of Biology, and IFSH. They are following special protocols to ensure they can socially distance while working and are sufficiently cleaning lab spaces between uses.

The tubes of VTM are filled with a mixture of substances to preserve the swab samples by preventing bacteria and fungus from growing, controlling pH levels and stabilizing the virus. Illinois Tech’s tubes of VTMs are taken to an Illinois Department of Public Health facility in Chicago.

“This is a unique opportunity for Illinois Tech to help meet the state’s needs,” said Alvin Lee, an Illinois Tech food science associate professor who has been overseeing the lab efforts. “The staff had no issues returning to work. I think everyone wanted to contribute, in some way, no matter how big or small, for the greater good.”

The IFSH contains some of the most technologically advanced food safety research labs at any university in the U.S. “The IFSH facilities are an asset to the state of Illinois and the Chicago area,” said Robert Brackett, Illinois Tech vice president and IFSH director. “We are thrilled that we can make use of this unique facility to help with Governor Pritzker’s public health effort.”


Click here for photos of Illinois Tech researchers working and the VTM tubes

About Illinois Institute of Technology

Illinois Institute of Technology, also known as Illinois Tech, is a private, technology-focused research university. Illinois Tech is the only university of its kind in Chicago, and its Chicago location offers students access to the world-class resources of a great global metropolis. It offers undergraduate and graduate degrees in engineering, science, architecture, business, design, human sciences, applied technology, and law. One of 21 institutions that comprise the Association of Independent Technological Universities, Illinois Tech provides an exceptional education centered on active learning, and its graduates lead the state and much of the nation in economic prosperity. Illinois Tech uniquely prepares students to succeed in professions that require technological sophistication, an innovative mindset, and an entrepreneurial spirit. Visit for more information.