With expertise that spans basic, translational and clinical research, Brigham and Women’s Hospital clinicians and investigators are working tirelessly to address the most urgent needs related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
To help reduce the spread of COVID-19, the Brigham has shut down most of its physical research labs. But many labs are still performing COVID-19 research remotely to better understand SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in order to develop treatment strategies against them.
“In mid-March, hundreds of Brigham investigators and laboratory staff quickly pivoted to contribute to COVID-19 research and addressing COVID-related problems,” Jacqueline Slavik, PhD, MSc, executive director of the Brigham Research Institute (BRI). “Within days, we were launching clinical trials, developing safer testing procedures and solving problems around personal protective equipment (PPE) shortages.”
A Wave of New Solutions for COVID-19
In the shadow of the COVID-19 pandemic, clinicians and researchers from the Brigham have come together with colleagues from around the world to produce a wave of innovative solutions faster than ever before.
Some of the Brigham’s most recent advances in the fight against COVID-19 include:
- Developing an innovative testing strategy to conserve PPE: A Brigham team developed the Brigham Protective Equipment for Clinical Test Environment and Diagnostics (B-PROTECTED) booth to preserve PPE and protect clinicians from COVID-19.
- Creating in-house COVID-19 testing with results available within 24 hours: Brigham clinicians implemented a rapid in-house test for COVID-19 patients who’ve been admitted to the Brigham but don’t yet have a definitive diagnosis.
- Designing new face shields to protect health care workers from infection: A team of clinicians at the Brigham worked with academic and industry partners to design and develop a new 3D-printed face shield that offers a number of advantages over traditional shields.
- Developing new protective materials: The lab of Jeff Karp, PhD is working on an extended-duration sanitizer and a nasal spray to form a shield that protects against inhaled pathogens and viruses.
- Using sewage to map an outbreak: Investigators in the lab of Peter Chai, MD are developing technology and a plan for sampling sewage. This sewage may provide important clues about the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 over time in the lead-up to the current crisis.
- Investigating connections during social distancing: The lab of Amar Dhand, MD, DPhil is researching the connections between individuals and their social networks. The team is learning firsthand how to stay connected during the time of social distancing.
“It’s inspiring to see how highly collaborative the Brigham research community has been during this crisis,” says Dr. Slavik. “Our research efforts have involved countless individuals from many academic institutions, the technology sector, industry and private companies—all of whom are working towards the common goal of mitigating COVID-19.”
Clinical Trials to Understand, Treat and Prevent COVID-19
To better understand COVID-19 and the virus that causes it, investigators at the BRI are working on a range of studies and trials. These include:
- Launching two remdesivir clinical trials: The Brigham is a clinical trial site for evaluating the antiviral medication remdesivir in patients with COVID-19.
- Developing a universal coronavirus vaccine: The lab of Thomas Kupper, MD is investigating a vaccine that may protect against COVID-19 along with past, current and future strains of coronavirus.
- Learning from patients who’ve recovered from COVID-19: The lab of Duane Wesemann, MD, PhD is testing blood samples from people who’ve recovered from infection. These samples will help the team learn more about rates of exposure, the types of antibodies an infection elicits and the degree of immunity recovered patients have against re-infection.
“The Brigham has also created a COVID-19 biorepository to collect an array of biospecimens from patients who are COVID positive, or have been,” says Allison Moriarty, MPH, vice president of research administration and compliance at the Brigham. “We believe this biorepository will be a key tool in helping us learn how to detect, treat and prevent COVID-19 in the future.”
A New Center for COVID Innovation
To rapidly develop new innovations and protect frontline staff across the Mass General Brigham (MGB) community and beyond, colleagues at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) and the Brigham research community launched the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation (MGBCCI) in March.
“The mission of the MGB Center for COVID Innovation is to organize and consolidate the rapid investigation and clinical deployment of devices, diagnostics, data, analytics and the therapeutics that MGH and the Brigham is generating to combat the COVID-19 crisis,” says David Walt, PhD, a medical diagnostics researcher at the Brigham and the Wyss Institute.
Investigators at the MGBCCI are responding directly to the most pressing needs that face health care workers. They are prototyping and testing new PPE, patient isolation hoods, alternative versions of respirators, face masks, face shields and nasal swabs.
Working groups within the MGBCCI have already identified and developed several new devices. They’re exploring other potential solutions for problems related to the pandemic. These efforts include:
- Decontaminating N95 respirators: To address the shortage of N95 respirators, the reuse working group brought a new hydrogen peroxide decontamination system to the Brigham. The system allows health care providers to reuse the respirators.
- Improving surgical mask design: The surgical masks group identified design inputs and criteria that are being applied to the design of an “ideal” surgical mask to improve upon the current design.
- Reusing ventilators: The ventilators team is investigating the potential disinfection and reuse of HME/HEPA ventilator filters. They’re also working with software engineers to build a remote monitoring and alarm system for ventilators.
- Replacing N95 respirators with novel devices: The N95 respirators team is exploring novel ideas for devices that could replace N95 respirators that aren’t dependent on the filtration media supply chain. They also developed a way to repair 50,000 defective N95 respirators with New Balance.
“We’re also working to identify a direct-to-consumer diagnostic test that could be used at home. When implemented, people can quarantine themselves if they are positive for COVID-19,” says Dr. Walt. “These tests could help stem flare-ups of COVID-19 cases that will invariably happen when people return to work and reintegrate into society.”
If you are interested in working with the Mass General Brigham Center for COVID Innovation (MGBCCI), please fill out this questionnaire. You can also email the center at firstname.lastname@example.org.