Mathers will receive the award Thursday at 3:30 p.m. in a ceremony in the Rotunda’s Dome Room and will also deliver a public lecture highlighting her latest research. The event is open to UVA community members and the public.
“We are thrilled to honor Dr. Mathers with this award for the leadership and ingenuity she demonstrated in the face of unfathomable challenges presented by COVID-19,” Bob Creeden, interim executive director of UVA Licensing & Ventures Group, said. “Dr. Mathers leveraged her experience with translational research and innovation activity to address the urgent need for high-impact testing solutions, and made them as widely available as possible to combat the spread of the pandemic across the state.”
Mathers grew up in Montana before getting her undergraduate degree at Humboldt State University in Arcata, California, and earning her medical degree at Loyola Stritch School of Medicine in Chicago.
Mathers, who came to UVA for an infectious disease fellowship in 2006, says it was in her second year at Humboldt State when she “fell in love” with bacterial genetics. “I was like, ‘Whatever I need to do to study bacterial genetics, that’s what I want to do,’” she recalled.
According to Mathers, it was around March 10, 2020, when UVA Health began admitting more patients with COVID symptoms than they had tests on hand.
The hardest part of those early days, Mathers said, was having to assume that all patients with symptoms had COVID. She had to tell relatives of patients – whether they had COVID or not – that they couldn’t be with dying family members. Since nobody could be tested, Mathers and her colleagues’ hands were tied.
“It was just very, very stressful and sad and felt somewhat overwhelming,” Mathers said, “and so I was highly motivated. … I felt like I should be the person at UVA who should be able to figure this out, because I’m trained in both infectious disease and in diagnostics and felt between Dr. [Melinda] Poulter and [me] that we should be able to get a test launched.
“Failure was just not an option. It was like, ‘We have to figure something out.’”
Creating a test was actually the easy part. Navigating the political red tape? Well, that was something entirely different.
As a result of new regulations from President Donald J. Trump that mandated the Food and Drug Administration oversee every clinical lab, Mathers and Poulter had to jump through several unexpected hoops.