Alum brings service to community

UW-Eau Claire graduate aids in COVID-19 testing


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Sara Lassila is a supervisor for the department of Laboratory Medicine and Technology at Mayo Clinic. She graduated from UW-Eau Claire in 2005.

As COVID-19 cases throughout the Wisconsin area continue to exponentially rise, an Eau Claire alum returns her medical services to the community she once belonged to. 

Sara Lassila, supervisor for the department of Laboratory Medicine and Technology at Mayo Clinic, said the increasing concern of the pandemic has now given her a role in making COVID-19 tests available. 

Through the clinic, she now works alongside other medical professionals to provide testing for concerned patients. 

“It has been wonderful to work on a project like this and to be successful in getting a (COVID-19) test out there, but it is disheartening to know that you need to test for this and to put that (resource) out there,” Lassila said.

Lassila said she graduated from UW-Eau Claire with a major in biochemistry and molecular biology, which led her to the career opportunities she now has in the medical field.

“Mayo Clinic clinical laboratory sciences was hiring for entry level clinical technologist positions,” Lassila said. “I went right from Eau Claire into an entry level position in a laboratory setting at Mayo Clinic.”

Adelia Boehm, a first year pre-nursing major, said she has continually been drawn to the drive for education experiences that UW-Eau Claire can provide for her degree plan.

“I have always been drawn to the fact that UWEC pushes students to not only do well on their major through their education, but also do well through service learning opportunities,” Boehmn said. “Eau Claire alumni seem very inspiring to me because it shows me a glimpse into my future as a nurse in the world.”

Lassila and her laboratory team currently serve at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. 

The results given from the COVID-19 test created can come as soon as 24 hours, according to the Mayo Clinic news network.

Lassila said her current role through Mayo Clinic is closely tied to understanding the testing resources for COVID-19. 

She said she became interested in developing a test for patients in the U.S and leading the process for those who are doing test development in a laboratory.

“All of the testing that we perform is for patient care,” Lassila said. “We look at how you get a diagnostic and prognostic test out for testing. We were waiting for more information to determine whether or not that was going to be what we needed to do for our patient care population.”

As of March 19, the Mayo Clinic can now process as many as 4,000 COVID-19 tests daily, and the number of tests administered will continue to increase. 

Lassila said the uncertainty of the COVID-19 virus created a shift in what the process for testing opportunities looked like at the Mayo Clinic.

“Typically, test development takes a number of months for us to go through in the laboratory and then translating that into clinical operation production,” Lassila said. “We were able to shorten that timeline considerably by working a lot differently and having more resources involved.”

Boehm said the rise of COVID-19 awareness has brought attention to the efforts of the nursing community in an impactful way.

“This pandemic has shown me how brave medical professionals are and how valuable their knowledge is for the world,” Boehm said. “It has made me excited to one day work alongside them as a nurse myself.”

Lassila said the advantageous experiences provided at UW-Eau Claire can definitely translate into your career later on.

“They may not be applied in the same fashion as the university setting but they definitely become advantageous,” Lassila said. “For me in my role, getting laboratory experience as an undergraduate research employee was very beneficial to me. 

According to Lassila and the Mayo Clinic, the data from test results will then be sent to the federal Food and Drug Administration for review, as there has been an emergency use authorization placed on COVID-19 testing. 

Lassila said as the pandemic continues, it is important to share the realities of the testing process while also giving community members as much information as possible. 

“It is a marathon and not a sprint,” Lassila said. “There are many activities that we’re still navigating and working through today. There is a lot more to learn about this and there is a lot more to come.”

Nelson can be reached at [email protected].