Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Alumnus leads saliva-based testing

Johanna Weeks

SUNY Plattsburgh Alumnus, Dr. Frank Middleton, has led statewide COVID-19 pool testing. His idea to measure coronavirus through saliva was criticized and doubted. However, the saliva swab testing has impacted the campus community as well as other SUNY schools. Dr. Middleton knew it could be a success based on the fact that RNA, ribonucleic acid, is present in saliva and is the indicator for most viruses.

Dr. Middleton graduated from SUNY Plattsburgh in 1991 with a biology degree. Dr. Middleton double majored in psychology and biology. His main focus was research. He was given permission to continue his research after the virus forced the state to go into lockdown. Dr. Middleton faced uncertainty from the Food and Drug Administration. By mid-July 2020, he was able to gain approval from the state health department to use his saliva testing statewide.

“They were very interested in our success with saliva and pooled testing,” Dr. Middleton said.

On Aug. 25, Chancellor Jim Mallatras announced that Dr. Middleton’s pool testing would be used across all SUNY schools.

The saliva testing is more efficient and comfortable than the traditional methods.

“The Department of Biological Sciences is delighted to see one of our graduates, Dr. Frank Middleton, making such an important contribution to the SUNY COVID-testing program,” Neil Buckley, the chair of SUNY Plattsburgh’s Biological Sciences, said. “His creative application of saliva-based genetic testing to COVID-19 has been hugely important in allowing testing to be completed quickly, efficiently and inexpensively.”

Buckley expressed the gratification that comes with seeing an alumnus excelling in their field. He believes that it shows the high-quality education the SUNY Plattsburgh science department offers students.

“The college also had an outstanding psychology program. I decided to take a few courses and became a double major in biology and psychology, creating my own path,” Dr. Middleton said. “I realized then that I wanted to do research. I had an undeveloped minor in chemistry as well, which gave me another opportunity for research.”

Dr. Middleton has been an active participant in the development as well as the process of testing. The SUNY Plattsburgh Health Center has been in direct contact with the director, Dr. Kathleen Camelo, and her staff when any questions arise concerning the testing process and results.

“It has been an honor to work with such a dedicated and learned professional,” Dr. Camelo said. “It has been a tremendous asset to be able to have this technology to test, isolate and quarantine our campus population to mitigate the spread of the virus.”

The saliva swab test has been beneficial to students.

“I think the saliva testing is effective, especially for large groups like in a college setting,” Jessica Collins, a senior journalism major, said. “The efficiency and cost to do it this way, rather than getting a nose swab for each student. I also think it’s easier for the students because the nose swab is very uncomfortable. I like that SUNY still supports their alumni after graduation and encourages their research in their professional careers.”

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