Conducting Research During a Pandemic: How Kingston Allergy Research picked up the COVID19 challenge – Dr. Anne Ellis
Charmi Shah, MSc Candidate (Translational Medicine)
At the September 24th Medical Grand Rounds, the Department of Medicine had the pleasure of hosting Dr. Anne Ellis, a professor here at Queen’s University and the Chair of the Division of Allergy & Immunology. Dr. Ellis’s presentation communicated how her team’s efforts persevered through the pandemic and how one can contribute to research during such global uncertainty.
The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) has affected every aspect of medical practice and has created many concerns for translational, clinical, and basic science research. Dr. Ellis described how COVID-19 has affected her research projects, the Environmental Exposure Unit, and her clinical practice. During in-person research visits, not only are the participants at risk of SARS-CoV2 exposure, but so are the research staff. In light of these risks, Dr. Ellis created her Standard Operating Procedure with incredible detail so there would be no gaps in how to carry out the in-person research project. These procedures help minimize risks and follow the humanitarian principle of “Do No Harm” for the participants and staff. It is necessary to create an assessment of a risk-benefit ratio to evaluate the balance between the risks of SARS-CoV2 exposure and the risk of delaying research projects. Dr. Ellis shared a review of the CAAARES Study (COVID19 Associated Anxiety in Allergic rhinitis and Asthma patients Experiencing Symptoms) and highlighted the results from the conducted surveys. Thought-provoking questions about allergy, asthma, anxiety and coping regarding COVID-19 are used to study whether people who have allergies and asthma are more anxious about getting COVID-19 than those without, since the initial symptoms of COVID-19 are similar to allergy and asthma-like symptoms. It was interesting to see the changes in data throughout the progression of the pandemic, such as the increase in the use of prevention methods, including masks.
Additionally, Dr. Ellis discussed the development of the COVID-19 Testing of Health Professional Students Study; which involves participants completing a nasal swab, blood work, and questionnaire. The team had incredible time pressure because they intended to bring back these students as soon as possible, which they achieved in May. The study aims to detect the virus when students are asymptomatic. Another aim is to look to serum IgG, IgM, and neutralizing antibodies for SARS-CoV2, which can help determine whether individuals have immunity. We appreciate the effort that it took Dr. Ellis’s team to organize the study through the complex, rapidly changing protocols regarding testing in Ontario. During phase 2, the team plans to capture the September peak and track the infections as students circulate into school.
During the post rounds discussion, the TMED graduate students had an interesting dialogue with Dr. Ellis expanding on the results from her CAAARES Study, the implications of remote data collection for patients, and the rise of telemedicine. In healthcare, it was only recently when health reports, such as blood test results, were provided to patients online, and now the pandemic has pushed many aspects of healthcare to swiftly transition to online platforms. Dr. Ellis discussed how the privacy of patient information and research data can be of concern in this new age. It is important to ensure our online data is secure and this will be a learning curve for healthcare. Specifically, for her study, she illustrates the necessity of maintaining clarity and open communication with the ethics board when the data is linked to participant personal information.
The conversation also consisted of the perception of the lay press on medical practices during the pandemic. The group looked at how in a time when the healthcare system is incredibly understaffed, it can be justified to the lay press the need for healthcare providers to prioritize their research, along with treating patients. It comes down to understanding that research discovery will always be “essential” because its transition from the bench to bedside is crucial to providing the best care to patients.
We also discussed the path that led Dr. Ellis to become a clinician scientist, and her decision to pursue a Research Fellowship in Allergy and Immunology. It is clear Dr. Ellis has a passion for her field and the therapeutic regimes in her specialty. Dr. Ellis’s career path and perseverance during the COVID-19 pandemic remind us to be flexible, adapt rapidly, and most importantly, be resilient in working hard through tough times.
It was a pleasure to have Dr. Ellis at our Medical Grand Rounds discussion. On behalf of the TMED graduate students, we thank her for her time and invaluable insight.