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How Elisabeth Gustafson-Wagner's team handled an unprecedented situation

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There were no sirens, flashing lights or megaphoned alerts in the labs, hallways, and offices of Integrated DNA Technologies but when word of the company’s decision to make an all-out effort to assist global researchers fighting the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, 2019-nCoV (or COVID-19), reached Elisabeth Gustafson-Wagner, she realized that zero hour had arrived.

“We were facing a need to launch products to help address a growing global health crisis and needed to meet a launch deadline that was unprecedented,” said Wagner, IDT’s Manager of Scientific Applications Support. “It was really such a unique situation, where we had to launch a product with web ordering, marketing and all features of a full product launch in just eight days.”

With researchers all over the world in dire need of getting assays for positive identification of 2019-nCoV, IDT was able to take advantage of its worldwide manufacturing capabilities and provide immediate solutions. The effort also included gene fragments for the development of vaccines to target the virus and a dedicated ordering channel that enabled IDT to turnaround and ship orders for stocked kits and controls in only 1-2 business days.

“Fighting emergent pathogens is among the most important effort that researchers undertake,” said Trey Martin, IDT President. “We’re thankful for all the researchers willing to suit up for these battles, and if we can make their progress faster or easier, we’re going to be there to help them.”

The entire Coronavirus project team, along with Gustafson-Wagner’s Scientific Applications Support Team, rose to the occasion.

“I think the entire team was functioning on adrenaline or coffee,” she said. “Being focused on a unified end goal that we were all committed to and passionate about, coupled with the race against the clock to get everything completed on time, definitely led to a rush of adrenaline, which spiked when we encountered issues that needed to be addressed urgently.”

Gustafson-Wagner, who earned her PhD at the University of Iowa (and was also a postdoctoral research fellow), joined IDT for precisely these situations.

“I was attracted to IDT and the SAS role, and the opportunity to help scientists advance their research efforts on a broad level through supporting a variety of applications,” she said. “The idea of talking to scientists working on solving a wide variety of different problems, and the opportunity to stay on top of the advances in scientific developments was appealing to me.”

The coronavirus response led to direct dealings with scientists around the world.

“My specific roles on the project core team were to help with product requirements, provide technical support on product use, help with developing a process to ensure that we were able to manufacture the influx of coronavirus-related custom oligos in the best way possible, and mitigate potential for complications in the customers’ hands,” Gustafson-Wagner said. “I also helped to coordinate efforts among the support teams, and prepare for supporting customers before, during and after launch.”

She pointed out that, “The coronavirus team included so many women involved in doing great things for science, of which I was only a small part.”

That team included Candace Schebel, Alisha Fordice, Monica O’Hara, Maureen Young, Sarah Hoffman, Renee Rathjen, Michelle Knirr, Ellie Oleson, Sarah Hoffman, Jane Elliott, Claire Behrends, Mindi Dixson, Lynette Lewis, Heather Loftsgard, Molly Lohr, Ashley Pope, Ellen Prediger, Keri Schlue , Shanna Topkins, Carly Hodges, Kristi McCall, and Amy Stanlick.

“It’s incredibly satisfying to think of the scope of what the team was able to accomplish in such a short amount of time, and incredibly satisfying to think that these efforts could help further propel research developments, vaccine development, and diagnostic strategies related to coronavirus,” Gustafson-Wagner said. “It has such far-reaching, global impact and it’s incredibly rewarding to think that we can influence that.”

She said the impact of those efforts sank in when a customer left a voicemail, simply to say thank you.

“He said he knew we moved heaven and earth to get his order processed and expedited,” Gustafson-Wagner said. “They had just run their first test, and the data was ‘beautiful.’ That voicemail came in the middle of the project, after what had been several long days and late nights/early mornings, and it really went a long way to lift spirits. Everyone came together for a common cause. Everyone is so busy, but no one told us what we were trying to do was impossible. It was really a testament to what can be done when a team is aligned and supported across the org, and unified towards accomplishing a common goal.”

 
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