ITASCA, Ill. – Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network today announced its partnership with SHIELD Illinois to serve as one of seven labs across the state enabling broader distribution of the University of Illinois’ saliva-based COVID-19 PCR (polymerase chain reaction) test. Government and educational institutions who have contracted with SHIELD now have access to PCR testing through the seven labs, which will increase the state’s testing capacity by 50 percent.

Gift of Hope is a nonprofit organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation and provides public education on donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. The decision to expand its laboratory services to include COVID-19 testing for residents is an extension of its mission to save and enhance lives through organ and tissue donation. Samples submitted by schools, colleges and universities, companies and government organizations are now being tested at the Gift of Hope Itasca facility.

“We’re excited to diversify the way we support our communities by being part of SHIELD’s statewide network to offer this critical healthcare service to residents,” said Dr. Harry Wilkins, Gift of Hope’s President/CEO. “Our lab has been serving our transplant partners, donors and their families for more than 30 years. Offering this additional testing service aligns perfectly with our mission and values.”

The SHIELD Illinois initiative also is helping generate new job opportunities. Gift of Hope created six positions to support and focus exclusively on COVID-19 saliva testing.

“Our new staff have become part of a highly diverse lab team at Gift of Hope,” said Dr. Sam Ho, Director of Gift of Hope’s Histocompatibility, and Infectious Disease Testing Laboratory. “We are honored to have added the ability to provide high-volume COVID-19 saliva test as part of our services.”

Since 1987, Gift of Hope’s laboratory has performed centralized donor-related testing, including infectious disease screening, histocompatibility testing and cross-matching to determine immunological compatibility in matching eligible organ and tissue donors with transplant recipients. In July 2020, Gift of Hope began COVID-19 testing on potential donors to ensure the safety of transplanted organs and tissue for recipients.

SHIELD Illinois developed its lab network to serve the state by identifying partner labs near Illinois’ population centers and minimizing the time needed to transport samples. The U of I System has invested more than $20 million to develop its innovative saliva-based test and launch the lab network, and Governor J.B. Pritzker authorized the use of $20 million in CARES Act funding to provide 1 million tests for the state’s public universities and community colleges. SHIELD Illinois is operating on a cost-recovery basis to realize the university’s land-grant mission to benefit all citizens of the state. For more information on the SHIELD Illinois statewide lab network, contact shieldillinois@uillinois.edu

About Gift of Hope

Gift of Hope is the not-for-profit organ procurement organization that coordinates organ and tissue donation and provides public education on donation in Illinois and northwest Indiana. As one of 58 OPOs that make up the nation’s donation system, we work with 180 hospitals and serve 12 million people in our donation service area. Since 1986, our work has saved the lives of more than 23,000 organ transplant recipients and improved the lives of hundreds of thousands of tissue transplant recipients.


Media contact

Dave Bosch

Chief Marketing/Communications Officer

Gift of Hope Organ & Tissue Donor Network