JAX helps Maine Maritime Academy students and crew stay safe

An aerial picture of the ship State of Maine in September 2019
The ship State of Maine in Castine, Maine (Photo by Tate Yoder, 2019).

The Jackson Laboratory and Puritan Medical Products have partnered with Maine Maritime Academy to ensure the safety of students and crew during their simulated training cruise in Castine.

Maine Maritime Academy (MMA) President William J. Brennan announced today that the college will run a pier-side training evolution for graduating seniors aboard the Training Ship State of Maine with the help of two Maine organizations: nonprofit biomedical research institute The Jackson Laboratory (JAX) and Puritan Medical Products. A total of 60 students, faculty, and ship’s crew will be double-tested for COVID-19 prior to boarding the ship using specimen collection kits from Puritan Medical Products. JAX will test the patient samples for the presence of the virus at its Connecticut-licensed CLIA (Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments) and CAP-accredited laboratory, and the test results will be turned around within 24 hours.

JAX’s CLIA and CAP-accredited laboratory had, until recently, focused on complex tumor profiling assays to help cancer patients and their clinicians learn more about specific tumors to try to identify the most appropriate treatment options for patients.  When the pandemic hit, the nonprofit was quickly able to adapt its capabilities to now also  JAX to provide widescale COVID-19 testing in ConnecticutIn partnership with the State of Connecticut, JAX is expanding its COVID-19 testing capacity from 550 tests per day to 20,000 tests per day, between now and early July for Connecticut residents.test patient samples for a specific RNA signature unique to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Simulated cruise, real skills 

The senior engineering and navigation students who, in order to graduate, must accrue final hours of sea time and experience required by the U.S. Coast Guard to obtain their unlimited license credentials and their degrees will stay aboard the ship for the entire training period. The pier-side cruise will be contained—with no one leaving or boarding—in order to maintain cordon sanitaire status throughout the six-week training period.

“Using Puritan medical products and with JAX protocol guidance and testing expertise, we can run this program safely so that our seniors can graduate and move on with their careers,” said President Brennan. “We can also take this opportunity to get trained and practice the logistics of testing so that we can incorporate protocols into our operation in the fall as necessary.”

Communities helping one another 

It was a serendipitous turn of events that brought the partnership about. “I re-connected with Timothy Templet at Puritan, with whom I went to high school, and he introduced me to LuAnn Ballesteros, a member of the leadership team at JAX, and the details fell into place. It is a wonderful testament to interpersonal connections in the state of Maine,” said President Brennan.

“Puritan understands the importance of getting everyone through school and we are honored to help MMA with their COVID-19 testing efforts for these seniors,” said Timothy Templet, Executive VP of Global Sales at Puritan. “We appreciate the importance of education and are excited we can help these students in continuing their journey to starting their careers. It’s the personal connections that makes Maine such a close community, which is how this project came about. We are thankful to work with two great Maine institutions, and are excited for this project to begin.”

“Now is the time to join together as a community to help one another,” said  Edison Liu, M.D.Conducts research focused on the functional genomics of breast cancer through an exploration of the entire genomic space.Edison T. Liu, M.D. , president and CEO of The Jackson Laboratory. “JAX is already collaborating with several Maine regional hospitals to provide testing for frontline health care workers, for patients who are symptomatic for COVID-19 and those whose surgeries had been put on hold. We’re honored to now work with MMA and Puritan to ensure that the training of those entrusted with our maritime economy continues.”

The academy received approval for their plan from the U.S. Coast Guard in late May and preparation for the “fast cruise’—as in held fast—in nearly complete. Faculty and crew members are scheduled to begin testing on June 22. Testing for participating students will begin on July 2. The cruise officially begins on July 8 and will end August 4, 2020.