Michael Springer, professor of systems biology in the Blavatnik Institute at HMS, has been awarded the George Ledlie Prize by Harvard University. The honor is bestowed no more frequently than every two years to a member of the Harvard community who has made a significant contribution to science.
Springer was recognized for developing a streamlined coronavirus testing system used by Harvard and MIT and for establishing and operating the Harvard University Clinical Laboratory (HUCL), which managed testing and samples.
“Mike’s research and innovation has had a profound impact on the way the University, and society at large, have responded to and managed the COVID-19 pandemic,” said University Provost and Chief Academic Officer Alan Garber.
Springer said he was working on developing an at-home influenza test when the pandemic hit. After that it was all hands on deck for his team, with the group sometimes eating all three meals together on a given day.
“We were in the lab 80 to 100 hours a week. It was both exciting and tense,” he said.
The team initially focused on modifying their at-home flu test to detect COVID-19.
The researchers then turned their attention to high-throughput processes that would be suitable for testing tens of thousands of samples per day.
To do this, the team worked with Richard Novak, then at the Wyss Institute, to co-create a swab that allowed for collection of samples that could be semi-automatically processed. The swab did not require liquid transport media, which simplified logistics.
In its first year of operation, the lab ran over 2.2 million COVID-19 tests at a greatly reduced cost per test.
“There were a lot of little things that we needed to innovate on and connect together to make the HUCL lab work,” Springer said. “There wasn’t any one thing, but it was kind of like 10 things that all together really made this something different than what had been done before.”