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Dr. Anne Ellis

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.

Comments

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Melinda Chelva

Mon, 09/28/2020 - 12:14

Excellent post Charmi! You did a great job highlighting and discussing the topics Dr. Ellis covered during the MGR last week, and how she and her team remained resilient and determined during such a difficult time.

The CAAARES Study is brilliant! I really value the importance this study places on the mental-well being of patients and how it acknowledges the extra worry COVID-19 can bring to patients who are immunocompromised, or who suffer from other medical conditions. With regards to COVID-19 studies, I wonder- if the number of cases start to decline, will there be less interest from individuals to participate?

In my opinion, I believe that many individuals are now more hesitant and reluctant to seek medical attention with the fear that they will be more likely to get infected with COVID-19 if they visit hospitals. Consequently, there is a possibility that that many of these individuals can go on to develop very serious diseases that may have been prevented, if they sought medical attention. This makes me wonder- has there been research that investigates the rate of other diseases during the pandemic, and more specifically, has there been research that looks at whether disease rates have increased since the pandemic? If not, I wonder if this will be a future focus for researchers?

As you mentioned, the work of Dr. Ellis and her team definitely expresses the importance of resilience and perseverance during such a difficult time! Her message to the TMED students during the MGR left me feeling inspired and hopeful for the near future!

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Melinda Chelva

Name
Kassandra Coyle

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 10:28

In reply to by Melinda Chelva (not verified)

Thank you, Dr. Ellis, for sharing your lab’s story of resiliency and adaptation during these unprecedented times and thank you to Charmi for the excellent summary.

Melinda, you bring up a great point regarding the hesitancy of many individuals to seek medical attention with the fear they are more likely to get infected with COVID-19 if they visit a hospital. When looking for more information on this, I found an article published in the National Post reporting a plummeting number of non-coronavirus ER visits across Canada. In this article they reported that the “overall ER volumes in Ontario are down 20-50%”. It is believed that patients are suffering in silence or waiting until serious damage has occurred before seeking treatment. As many of us know, an important aspect of effective treatment for many diseases is early diagnosis. With so many people avoiding hospitals and waiting to seek treatment, it will be interesting to see if the severity and prevalence of other diseases and morbidities have increased in the general public. I am very interested to learn the overall impact of this hesitancy to seek help and plan to follow upcoming research in this field.

https://nationalpost.com/news/fear-of-covid-19-believed-to-be-behind-pl…

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Kassandra Coyle

Just in response to both Melinda and Kassandra's points about the number of ER visits going down in the era of COVID, I wonder if this could potentially be a positive outcome.

Before COVID some people would come to the ER with a non-injury related headache or an ear infection because they didn’t want to wait to see their family doctor or go to a walk in clinic. Each ER visit is expensive to the healthcare system and if a non-urgent case comes in, a patient can be waiting several hours before they get seen. Perhaps COVID has helped put into perspective the general public's idea of what an emergency medical situation may be, leading them to seek help using the appropriate healthcare route instead of defaulting to the emergency room.

Thank you again Dr. Ellis for the wonderful talk and to Charmi for the excellent summary.

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Michaela Spence

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Jummy Oladipo

Mon, 09/28/2020 - 14:38

Thank you Charmi for an excellent summary of the discussion.

Dr. Ellis did a great job highlighting the importance of remaining adaptable and innovative during these unprecedented times. She and her team took the COVID-19 challenge in stride and thought of ways to incorporate it into her research. Something that stood out to me during the discussion was the proactive approach that Dr. Ellis took to tackling the COVID-19 situation. She discussed the struggles she faced taking over a new lab during the SARS outbreak in 2003 and how it informed her decision to shift research focus early to keep her lab running during the pandemic. This led to the creation of the COVID-19 Testing Student Health Professional Study. The actions that Dr. Ellis’ team took to ensuring their lab could stay open highlights the importance of seizing the unique opportunities COVID-19 gives to explore new ideas. Not only did the COVID-19 study enabled her lab to stay open, but the findings from the study may also help inform public health guidelines and show the reality of the pandemic at Queen’s. One of the main takeaways I received from the discussion was to not let strict time constraints and large logistical challenges deter you from taking on a new research direction. The innovation, perseverance, and flexibility that Dr. Ellis and her team exhibited while conducting research during the pandemic are very admirable. I hope to learn from her experience and use it to shape my own experience as a graduate student.

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Jummy Oladipo

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Max Moloney

Mon, 09/28/2020 - 15:32

Thank you, Charmi for your detailed summary of Dr. Ellis’ presentation during Medical Grand Rounds this past week.

Dr. Ellis has demonstrated a great deal of resilience in pivoting her lab’s research to studying SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 in a very short time frame. This was most prominently demonstrated through the successful development of the COVID-19 Testing of Health Professional Students Study prior to students returning in September. I am curious as to how the results of this study in particular could possibly inform policy related to return-to-school protocols as we enter a second wave of the pandemic.

In addition, Dr. Ellis serves as an exceptional role model for young researchers who face their own challenges in conducting research in the mist of the COVID-19 pandemic. The adaptability demonstrated Dr. Ellis and her team has provided an excellent template for other researchers to learn from in order to adapt their research due to stoppages related to COVID-19.

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Max Moloney

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Caitlyn Vlasschaert

Tue, 09/29/2020 - 09:13

I was so impressed to learn that Kingston health leaders are not only heading one of the most effective pandemic responses in Canada, but also developing many ground-breaking research programs to better understand COVID19. So many scientists & health professionals paused and pivoted from their usual work to join forces. Resilience, adaptation, and teamwork at its finest!

Thank you for the enlightening talk, Dr. Ellis, and to Charmi for the discussion summary.

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Caitlyn Vlasschaert

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Anne Ellis

Tue, 09/29/2020 - 13:37

Thanks for you post and ongoing discussions. Fans of the CAAARES study will be pleased to learn we have had over 300 people participate in Phase 2 already!
Stay tuned for more analysis!
AKE

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Anne Ellis

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Jordan Harry

Wed, 09/30/2020 - 18:09

Thanks Charmi for the excellent post, and a sincere thank you to Dr. Ellis, who was an absolute pleasure to talk to. Her perseverance throughout this pandemic is truly inspiring.
Adaptable is one word that I would use to describe Dr. Ellis and her lab. I found it incredible how many frequent changes Dr. Ellis was required to make to the study and how fluid the nature of COVID-19 research is. I think it will be interesting to see how the study enrollment changes during this second wave. Additionally, I can’t wait to see the results of the antibody studies, and what the Ellis lab will do with the antibodies and their findings in the future.

Name
Jordan Harry

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