Daman Kowalski is the vice president of Molecular Diagnostics at Abbott. The mother of Sydney Kowalski ’16, she has been very active in Abbott’s research and development of coronavirus test kits. We asked her a few questions about her role in the company’s research and development of the new COVID-19 tests now being used.
Please explain your role in the research work involving the different tests?
I am the head of Abbott’s Molecular Diagnostics business. As the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, I was part of the Abbott leadership team that worked to identify a team of top scientists who could take on the challenge of developing COVID-19 tests in an unprecedented time frame.
My team was one of several that were charged with developing a test. For my team, that meant developing laboratory tests that uses molecular technology to identify the virus in people who are infected. Developing the test quickly and accurately was critical, but we also tackled the challenge of scaling up production so we could get many tests into the hands of healthcare workers – and quickly. What we have accomplished in such a short period of time to help combat this pandemic is something I am extremely proud of.
How many coronavirus test kits have come out of Abbott’s research department in recent weeks?
Abbott has currently developed several COVID-19 tests including molecular (they detect the virus during active infection) and serology (these identify antibodies found in blood days to months, and possibly longer, after symptoms of the virus appear). We haven’t stopped there. We are scaling up where we can and we have more tests in development.
How long has it taken to develop each test?
While developing a high quality and reliable test normally takes years, our expert team of scientists worked around the clock to compress the time frame down to weeks. We knew the need was great so we moved every resource we could to the development of these tests. Abbott has long been a global leader in infectious disease testing including the development of the first FDA approved test for HIV, and we are proud of the role we are playing in COVID-19 testing.
How long have you been with Abbott?
I joined Abbott in 1988 and spent most of my tenure with the company in research and development. I spent a few years in Abbott’s international business, which was a great opportunity to immerse myself into different markets and cultures around the globe. When I returned to the U.S., I spent several years in Abbott’s diagnostics business in various functions and was appointed to the role of Vice President, Molecular Diagnostics one year ago.
What other work have you been involved with over your career?
I am a member of the Abbott Scientific Governing Board and am very passionate about supporting STEM programs such as our Abbott Women in Science initiative. I served as a board member at The Music Institute of Chicago. I am also a participant and mentor on The Harvard School of Public Health Leadership Council.