Quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic began to grip the world, Lawson Health Research Institute responded with action. Lawson is the research arm of London Health Sciences Centre (LHSC) and St. Joseph’s Health Care London. With hospitals focused on providing excellent patient care in the face of an unknown virus, hospital researchers in London, Ontario began critical COVID-19 studies.
“A lot was unknown during the first wave of the pandemic. Any research that wasn’t essential was put on hold. At the same time, we had people with different expertise coming together with different perspectives to see how we could better understand the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 infection,” explains Dr. David Hill, Lawson Scientific Director and VP, Research at LHSC and. St. Joseph’s. “Our hospital researchers formulated ideas and very quickly came up with research proposals. These were fast tracked through our processes and within two months we approved over 50 new studies surrounding COVID-19.”
Dr. David Hill, Lawson Scientific Director and VP, Research at LHSC and. St. Joseph’s
Some of these studies were clinical trials, which are research studies performed with people. Many patients from London hospitals get involved as patient participants and when COVID-19 hit, many agreed to be a part of this important research.
“We saw the pandemic happening across the world, and suddenly it was happening here in London. This has probably been the biggest challenge of my career,” says Carol Young-Ritchie, Executive Vice President at LHSC. “We had to look at many of our processes and how we were doing things, and adjust appropriately and nimbly.”
Young-Ritchie adds that as the hospital continued to admit a growing number of COVID-19 patients, a strong focus on research was needed. “It was absolutely critical and important for LHSC as a leader and academic centre to contribute to our collective knowledge. We needed to keep that research going and although it has been challenging, it has also taught us to be innovative.”
Carol Young-Ritchie, Executive Vice President at LHSC
The same focus was happening at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, with health care providers and researchers finding ways to improve care and outcomes for patients who had contracted the virus. “COVID-19 research through the hospital has been incredibly important,” says Karen Perkin, Vice President of Patient Care at St. Joseph’s. “We had researchers busy looking at the impacts of COVID-19. We had patients on ventilators and we were trying to understand that more. We also had research looking at the impacts for staff members looking after patients. All important, helpful knowledge as we move forward.”
Karen Perkin, Vice President of Patient Care at St. Joseph’s
Hospital research in London through Lawson is proudly affiliated with Western University. At Western’s Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, the new state-of-the-art Imaging Pathogens for Knowledge Translation (ImPaKT) Facility was the perfect environment to conduct COVID-19 research.
“ImPaKT is a special containment facility where research on viruses like SARS-CoV-2 can be done safely,” says Dr. David Litchfield, Vice Dean of Research and Innovation at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry. “It has become a focal point for dozens of studies involving research through Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, as well as partners from the hospitals and other academic institutions and industries.”
Dr. Litchfield adds that collaboration between hospital partners and scientists has been the key to successful COVID-19 research. “This collaboration has enabled advances leading to new diagnostic testing for COVID-19, as well as studies using MRI or related imaging tools to investigate long-term impacts of the infection on individuals.”
The rapid research response to COVID-19 couldn’t have happened without community and foundation financial support. “Funding support from our hospital Foundation is something we are so grateful for,” says Perkin, referring to St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation. “They came right out at the beginning and asked how they could help, as did our donors.”
LHSC’s London Health Sciences Foundation and Children’s Health Foundation were also pivotal in research funding during the pandemic. “Funding is a crucial part to how we do hospital research and the Foundations have been important partners in making sure our research continued,” says Young-Ritchie.
As the pandemic continues, so does the research within our community. Hospital research has already improved diagnostics, treatments and patient outcomes related to COVID-19 and helped people all around the world.
“If you look at some of the achievements that have occurred in just a little more than a year, we have had a number of landmark publications on ways to diagnose COVID-19 compared to other respiratory disorders,” notes Dr. Hill. “We have had many rapid advances and it can take a crisis to bring out the best in people. Then things come together quickly, such as expertise, talent and money – and the job gets done.”