PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — In an effort to better understand how to diagnose and treat patients with COVID-19, physician-scholars at the Brown-based Advance Clinical and Translational Research (Advance-CTR) have partnered with Rhode Island’s Lifespan health system to create a bank of plasma and serum samples from patients who have been tested for novel coronavirus.
Project leaders say the COVID-19 Biobank, launched in May 2020 and housed at the Lifespan Clinical Research Center at Rhode Island Hospital, is helping more than a dozen teams of Brown researchers confront questions that every medical professional working amid the pandemic wants answered — including how best to diagnose positive cases of COVID-19, how to predict the immune responses of individuals with the virus, and how to prevent hospitalized patients from suffering long-term damage to their health.
Founded with a grant from a COVID-19 Research Seed Fund launched by the University to fast-track innovative research addressing the direct effects of the pandemic, the biobank exemplifies Brown’s growing focus on translational science — ensuring that breakthroughs in basic research are advanced to the point where they can make a meaningful medical difference for patients, and that urgent scientific questions identified in the clinic or among patient populations become research priorities in the lab.
“In order for our scientists to make any headway in treating this virus, they need direct access to blood samples from primary patients who were tested for COVID-19,” said Bharat Ramratnam, the co-principal investigator of the project, vice chair of research for the Department of Medicine at Brown’s Warren Alpert Medical School and chief science officer at Lifespan.
Ramratnam said it is often difficult for virus researchers to obtain human biological samples, as many don’t have direct access to patients or to clinical hospital staff. The early stages of the pandemic brought additional challenges for researchers at Brown, including limited access to personal protective equipment and restrictions on hospital access for non-clinical staff, making it difficult for those researchers to reach patients safely.
But thanks to the extensive levels of partnership between the Warren Alpert Medical School and Lifespan, researchers and working medical professionals have found what they say is an efficient, safe and ethical way to collect blood samples from patients with potential symptoms of COVID-19 who seek care in emergency departments at Rhode Island Hospital and the Miriam Hospital.