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COVID-19 Experiences of IATDMCT Young Scientists

Laure Elens and Juliette

This month we hear from the Young Scientist Committee and Young Scientist friends about how the COVID-19 situation has affected our professional lives. The result is a lovely snapshot of experiences of our members across countries and continents. The photo for the post represents one of the most challenging aspects of the situation, which has been working from home and caring for children in the context of institutional closures. A heart felt thank you to everyone for their contributions, and to all our members contributing in so many ways to this situation that has affected all of us globally.

 

« Laure and Juliette, working from home

 


 

Lea Wagmann, Young Scientist Committee
Saarland University, Homburg, Germany

I’m working at the Department of Experimental and Clinical Toxicology of the Saarland University in Homburg, Germany. In the middle of March, our university announced the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic and my colleagues and I had to work from home for about six weeks. All research not related to COVID-19 has stopped during this period, but our lab remains open for the emergency toxicology service.

We were allowed to return to the university and to continue our research in May. However, we have to pay attention to new hygiene instructions, including using face masks when walking around the building or reduced number of researchers permitted inside the building at the same time.

Yosuke Suzuki, Young Scientist Committee
Meiji Pharmaceutical University, Tokyo, Japan

In Japan, COVID-19 spread mainly in Tokyo after peaking in April and the number of newly infected people has started to decrease since the end of May. Research activity is decreased due to the limited number of people in universities and research laboratories in some cities such as Tokyo. People in Japan are trying to resume research activities with prevention of COVID-19 infections by avoiding three conditions that facilitate the transmission of infectious disease: closed spaces, crowds, and close contact.

Florian Lemaitre, Young Scientist
Rennes University Hospital, France

It is a complex situation: we reduced our lab activity to essential things. Kidney transplants have been halted, consultations postponed, and biological analyses are being conducted in private laboratories, thus we have had a 50% decrease in services.

We are organized in small rotating teams. We can validate our analyses remotely, which has been great. We have had many hydroxychloroquine assays, and this has been disappointing and makes no sense. We have had a lot of research related writing activities on behalf of professional societies (IATDMCT, but even more for the French society!). The University is closed but we have to plan courses remotely too. I am not good at that and am late in my duties. Also, there is schooling at home for the kids, which has been crazy. And, of course, children forever interrupt tasks... hopefully we will not be heavily impacted by the epidemic in Rennes.

Miao Yan, Young Scientist Committee
Central South University, Hunan Province, China

The whole world is under the threat of COVID-19. However, the present situation in China is stable and currently has little effect on my professional life. Our government responded quickly and has dealt with this disaster well. Meanwhile, Chinese traditional medicine has played an important role in fighting against COVID-19. So, everything around me is going well now and I hope things also go well for IATDMCT colleagues.

Laure Elens, Young Scientist Committee
Université catholique de Louvain, Belgium

In Belgium, the university turned virtual in just two days. The big challenge has been that we had to adapt our courses while schools and nurseries are closed. Here is a representative picture of what my routine has been like during two months of lockdown (Photo above of Laure and Juliette).

Tomoyuki Mizuno, Young Scientist Committee
Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, Ohio, United States

In the US, the number of COVID-19 cases have rapidly increased since mid-March. On March 22, the Ohio Governor announced a state-wide stay-at-home order. Before this, we started working from home as much as possible. Since then, most of our communications have been via phone, e-mail or web-meetings. Thanks to the technology we can still talk "face-to-face" virtually! We keep working on computer-based research/projects, including PK/PD analyses and writing projects. Patient enrolment in clinical trials was suspended but recently resumed. Our institution launched a step-by-step research escalation plan and is now in a phase of 50-65% recovery of productivity. As of late June, many states are reporting an increase in confirmed cases. We continue working remotely as much as possible to minimize the number of employees working in the office.

Brenda de Winter, Young Scientist Committee
Erasmus MC, Rotterdam, The Netherlands

At the moment COVID-19 spread to the Netherlands, I was on holiday in Costa Rica. There I was informed about the development of the disease and the restrictions imposed by our government. While I was enjoying our holiday, and figuring out our possibilities for a safe return, my colleagues were busy expanding our ICU capacity, training new colleagues to work at these departments and obtaining enough equipment, sedative drugs and testing materials.

When I returned to the Netherlands, everything had changed which felt very strange. As I always cough in airplanes due to the air-conditioning, I had to be tested and show a negative result before I could start working at the hospital pharmacy. At the TDM-toxicology laboratory we worked on the development of a chloroquine assay to be able to measure concentrations of the drug in COVID patients. We clinically validated a dried blood spot method for immunosuppressive drugs and creatinine to be able to measure these concentrations for transplanted patients who had to stay at home.

In the meantime, we measured midazolam and beta-lactam concentrations for patients in the ICU. Due to shortages of drugs and materials, this was coordinated from a central nationwide coordinating center. We helped prepare large amounts of drugs which were ready to use or administer for the ICU units at our production facilities. Luckily, the number of COVID-19 patients has declined and work is returning to normal again. Let’s hope we will stay safe and be prepared if COVID-19 or another virus strikes again.

Sophie Stocker, Young Scientist Committee
St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney, Australia

"We can't hear you... your still on mute!" This phrase commonly reverberates around the four walls of my (home) ‘office’. As a response to COVID-19, like for many others, work has shifted to being predominantly from home. Whilst I have worked from home in the past, this has been different. The constant zoom calls, patchy internet connection, the continual creeping expansion of work hours into my home life and my feeble attempts to ensure that my two young children don't ‘zoom bomb’ my important work meetings.

The biggest challenges have probably been supporting students and staff, especially those new to the group, to find their feet and place within a virtual department, whilst rapidly adapting to revised research projects and services to ensure they are COVID-19 compliant. Working from home whilst also home schooling was also tough (read impossible!). However, the switch to remote interactions has also seen the breaking down of silos, strengthening of collaborations previously hamper by distance (huge benefit for Australians) and forced change which has spurred innovation and creativity. Whilst attaining the new COVID-19 homeostasis hasn't always been easy, I’ve learned a lot along the way. The experience has shaped me, and I believe I am the better for it.

Natalia Riva, Young Scientist Committee
Hospital de Pediatria JP Garrahan, Buenos Aires, Argentina

In Buenos Aires, we are at about the 100th day of lock down. As I mainly do research, we have paused patient recruitment in research protocols, with a few exceptions. We are working from home analyzing data sets, trying to make the most of this difficult situation, writing manuscripts, reports, applying for research grants (for us, mainly transplantation and biosimilars), and doing a lot of online courses! (It is difficult to say ‘no’ to online courses).

In addition, we have new fellows in training and their situation is even more complicated as they are learning to do the job in this context. Also, university lessons have gone online, and in my case, as assistant to the Head of practical work, correcting, teaching and being productive is also very challenging.

I know there are many others going through the same kind of issues, so I think it is important to keep to schedules and working hours. We all have to make our best effort, have patience, prudence and discipline. There are good things to do.

Georgios Schoretsanitis, Young Scientist
Zucker Hillside Hospital, Glen Oaks, New York, United States

In the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March there was an unrealistic optimism that the USA will barely be affected. The arrival of lockdown was cruel, and it drastically transformed the work life of clinical researchers like me. Clinical trials froze and recruitment has been halted. Remote work was suggested to all researchers, unless our presence in the hospital was absolutely necessary. For me, it was a chance to analyze long-waiting previously collected data. At the same time, research work focusing on COVID-19 emerged and rose exponentially, and novel possibilities appeared. The temptation to engage in this very promising field was fomented by the willingness of prestigious journals to make COVID-19-related work available. However, it become gradually obvious that the quality of the overwhelming amount of literature was questionable, and researchers are getting more critical as the initial excitement fades away. Moreover, as the health system increasingly faces the catastrophic financial sequelae of COVID-19, we witness the middle-term impact of the pandemic: researchers are now asked to cut down resources of ongoing trials and scheduled projects are postponed. As we are trying to slowly re-open projects, patient assessments are mainly performed by videoconferences. When this is not possible, rigid safety measures are taken with researchers and patients wearing masks. Despite the challenges, a new type of routine is established. In the aftermath of the first COVID-19 months, researchers have to and will face unprecedented challenges that require unusual levels of flexibility to deal with.

Indy Sandaradura, Honorary Young Scientist
Westmead Hospital, Sydney, Australia

As an Infectious Diseases Physician and Clinical Microbiologist based at one of the largest hospitals in Sydney, the last 6 months of my professional life have been profoundly impacted by COVID-19. After the first reports of cases from China our laboratory raced to develop, deliver and expand testing across the state whilst concurrently working with viral cultures to develop the first serology tests available in Australia. At the same time our hospital network activated pandemic plans with cancellation of elective surgery and restructuring of our wards to optimise the care of patients and minimise the possibility of cross-infection. However, despite the previous planning and preparation much was learnt during this process. Staff worked harder and longer and often went without planned leave as the city was shut down. I have been astounded by how well our healthcare system adapted and evolved. About a decade of change was squeezed into a few months, with remote working, tele-health, community-based care and multidisciplinary clinic models being rapidly implemented. Political and administrative support together with tireless efforts from laboratory and clinical staff has resulted in an enviable outcome for the Australian community - but the battle against complacency continues as we now open up.

The content of the IATDMCT Blog does not necessarily have the endorsement of the Association.