Lawson teams respond rapidly to call for research

When cases of COVID-19 began spreading in the London region, Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson) had to rapidly adjust to a new environment.

As a hospital based research institute, Lawson is uniquely positioned to address the medical questions posed by a new virus. The expertise and infrastructure to begin these investigations was already in place. The global shortage of supplies, as well as physical distancing measures, forced many research projects to be put on hold. Other areas, however, were ramping up their work to support the scientists and physicians eager to figure out how we can better prevent, detect, and treat patients with COVID-19.

Lawson Clinical Research Services (LCRS) and the Center for Clinical Investigation and Therapeutics (CCIT) got to work immediately. The teams responded rapidly to research requests, getting new studies up and running within days.

Carolina Gillio Meina, Research Associate

Dr. Douglas Fraser, Lawson Scientist and Paediatric Critical Care Physician at London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC), initiated a study to examine the immune response in patients with COVID-19. Reports from other parts of the world identified a heightened immune response in more severe cases of the infection, also labeled the ‘cytokine storm’. Laboratories at Lawson were ready to handle this type of research, as close proximity to patients and sample collection is essential.

“To support Dr. Fraser’s research, we had to establish new processes, as well as source and distribute supplies in order to get this study operational,” explains Sue Tereschyn, Manager of LCRS. The protocol for this study required daily blood draws from patients who were presumed to be infected with COVID-19 in the Intensive Care Units (ICU) at both University and Victoria Hospital. After collection, the samples were delivered to CCIT for processing, and then sent to a lab at Victoria Hospital for analysis.

“Our world changed almost overnight,” adds Tereschyn. “We had to pivot on a dime and change the entire way we do business. Our staff have really risen to the challenge.”

Mala Ramu (left) and Sangeetha Balaji (right), Lawson Clinical Research Services

The LCRS and CCIT teams are supporting essential research in other ways as well, including logistics and administrative support, and supply sharing.

“We’ve developed many new partnerships throughout this pandemic, and figured out in very short order how to work efficiently together,” says Tereschyn. “While COVID-19 has presented us with many challenges, it has also been a great opportunity for us to support one another in ways that I don’t believe would have transpired otherwise.”