Researchers hope to learn more about causes and possible treatments for this and other diseases
NEWS RELEASE: Bill Bangert, Public Information Officer (Edited for Loveland Beacon by Chuck Gibson)
CINCINNATI, OH (April 29, 2020) – The University of Cincinnati College of Medicine is collecting specimens from COVID-19 patients to be stored as part of the Cincinnati COVID-19 Repository (CCR) effort.
Dr. Kristin Hudock, Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the UC College of Medicine (UC/Joseph Fuqua II)
The specimens will be used by researchers to learn more about COVID-19 and possible treatments and preventions for not only this disease but possibly diseases of the future.
The concept of a repository came together in the latter days of March from discussions among researchers across UC, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and other organizations, according to Dr. Kristin Hudock of the Department of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine at the UC College of Medicine.
“There was a growing consensus that we needed samples from these patients,” said Hudock. “There was a call amongst investigators across the entire campus including Cincinnati Children’s, UC and the Cincinnati Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) that we need to get specimens so that we can ask key scientific questions. We had multiple people with very different backgrounds who had never met each other and suddenly we had a unifying goal of ‘we’ve got to figure this out.’ It was a call to arms.”
The collection of biological specimens from consenting COVID-19 patients began in mid-April. They are stored in the UC Biorepository (UCB), a biospecimen procurement and storage core facility located in the UC College of Medicine. Under the direction of Kelsey Dillehay McKillip, the UCB provides biospecimen collection, processing and storage services in support of clinical and translational research. All of the CCR specimens will be stored within the UCB, and the UCB staff will be responsible for maintaining the integrity and organization of the specimens.
“We’ve rallied as a medical center to say we should have a singular path where we gather all of the specimens and data as best we can into one pool, then share it across the organization,” said Dr. Brett Kissela, the Albert Barnes Voorheis chair and professor of the UC Department of
Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine, senior associate dean for clinical research at the UC College of Medicine and chief of research services for UC Health. “We’re going to be taking care of these patients, and we have no way to intervene right now. So if nothing else, we should be able to gather data and learn something about our patients from this disease process to give us some clues that might lead to future treatment.”
The goal for the CCR is to collect as many specimens as possible, according to Maggie Powers-Fletcher, assistant professor of the UC Division of Infectious Diseases. Powers-Fletcher, who has a background in clinical microbiology and laboratory medicine, oversees the laboratory aspect of this project and helps with coordination between the many groups involved.
Dr. Brett Kissela, the Albert Barnes Voorheis chair and professor of the UC Department of Neurology and Rehabilitation Medicine and senior associate dean for clinical research at the UC College of Medicine. (Photo credit/Colleen Kelley/UC Creative + Brand)
Maggie Powers-Fletcher, assistant professor of the UC Division of Infectious Diseases- working from home (Provided)
“The biospecimens will allow us to have samples to test and explore different hypotheses to look at the different disease mechanisms involved, and then when we compare that or associate that with the clinical data and exposure data, we can start to understand the epidemiology of this,” said Powers-Fletcher. “A lot of this is understanding how to respond, how to predict and how to manage this type of disease from all aspects. We’re hoping to create a database that will allow a multidirectional approach.”
According to Kissela, the CCR is made possible by funding from the University Of Cincinnati Office Of Research along with matching funds from Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and the UC College of Medicine who all came together in a rapid fashion to initiate the project.
“Institutions often take six months to actually launch something like this with adequate funding. It’s unprecedented to launch this within four weeks of the conceptual idea, with funding, multiple institutions and cooperation of an entire academic health campus, with buy-in and so many investigators coming together to make it happen,” said Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor in the UC Division of Infectious Diseases and associate chairman of translational research. “This is very unheard of, and it’s a tribute and a testament to the entire UC family that we were able to do this.”
Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the UC College of Medicine and a UC Health physician (Photo/Joseph Fuqua II/UC Creative + Brand)
In all, more than 60 groups of scientists and clinicians will utilize these patient samples across the campus. That number includes people from Cincinnati Children’s, the Cincinnati VAMC and other areas of UC such as the Department of Environmental and Public Health Sciences and the College of Engineering and Applied Science who will apply their expertise to studying the SARS-CoV-2 related disease. This includes scientists and clinicians who make vaccines, those trying to selectively quell the inflammation and those trying to prevent respiratory failure and sudden cardiac death.
“The biggest question we hope to answer is why some people have minor symptoms while others become critically ill and require mechanical ventilation,” Hudock said.
“I have been caring for these patients in the MICU and asking myself: Do these patients have a genetic predisposition? Is this the result of an overly exuberant immune response? Studies done with biorepository samples offer a unique opportunity to predict who will need the ICU and allow us to focus our energies and resources.”
Powers-Fletcher says from her perspective as a scientist and researcher, she hopes this pandemic is a once-in-a-generation experience, but it is also an opportunity to better prepare for the future.
“This is the ‘moment we’ll remember’ type of thing,” she said. “I think it also helps us prepare for a future outbreak. How do we operationalize, how do we come together and answer these scientific questions quickly and effectively? I think it’s important that what we’re learning about the process isn’t necessarily just going to be COVID-19 specific, but it’s a better understanding of the entire outbreak picture.”
COVID-19 samples will be used for research (File photo)
Hudock says she has been impressed by the eagerness of so many people from the Cincinnati medical community to join the CCR project.
“The CCR is an outstanding collaboration that could lead to substantial breakthroughs,” said Hudock. “I believe we’re going to look back at this as a life-changing time that galvanized clinicians, scientists, patients and their families to defeat COVID-19.”