MDI Biological Laboratory
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March 25 Update: How is MDIBL helping?

  • March 25, 2020

March 25, 2020
Hannover, Germany

Good morning MDIBL,

It was good to see you all on-screen yesterday and I am looking forward to seeing you all in person when it is possible again.

Things seem a bit slow at the moment; everybody is waiting. Although not everywhere — in the epicenters of the disease hundreds of patients are calling their doctors and hospitals are very busy. In Maine (and in Hannover) there is no storm yet. A ripple here and there, but mostly the water is calm. Waiting isn’t easy and procedures, only recently established, already feel somewhat tedious. However, we must remain alert and aware. We don’t know what exactly to expect, but awareness and following procedures will hopefully save us from the worst.

Yesterday I had a long conversation with colleagues at MDI Hospital and Jackson Lab. The main concern, alongside and related to health and safety, is PPE supplies and testing capacity. Do we have enough protective gowns?  Do we lack masks?  And how can we solve the problem of testing? There is a lack of testing devices world-wide: not enough swabs, not enough tubes, and not enough of the materials (reagents) needed to carry out the tests in the lab. People have started to 3D print swabs!

MDIBL is doing all it can to support our healthcare providers. Iain Drummond and the faculty are in contact with other labs to provide what testing equipment we can. We have offered gloves and other materials. We have also discussed whether or not MDIBL is set up and equipped to help with testing. Unfortunately equipment and expertise is not enough. Any testing system has to be approved by the Maine CDC. Even in these critical times, a lot of bureaucracy stands in the way before you are allowed to test. Wide-spread testing would be helpful in building a more efficient quarantine system. This health data will also be very important for understanding the epidemiology of the disease and how transfection works. Maybe we need a research project on MDI to answer these questions?

For the time being we have to rely on clinical judgement and pragmatism. A few days ago, I wrote a blog about the clinical features of the disease and diagnosing COVID-19. Most importantly: if you have symptoms and reason to believe that you have had contact with someone with the disease, the hospital will test you. 

At the hospital in Hannover I am seeing more patients and reviewing more patient histories. Infection with the coronavirus/COVID-19 has so many faces; some patients have almost no symptoms while testing positive; others present with a flu-like disease for 3-4 days and test negative; and a few patients suffer a more severe disease with full-blown pneumonia and breathing problems. Two out of six patients I have seen had been skiing in Northern Italy. Skiing in itself is healthy — I think the disease was transmitted in the après ski frivolities: bars packed with people, everybody in close contact, the bartender is perhaps spreading the virus talking to people and touching barware. It is a terrible thought at the moment.

However, I am looking forward to après ski again in the future, just as you can look forward to the activities you enjoy with others. Perhaps though, we will all do it with a little more caution and awareness.