Cate-Speake-PhDScientists at Benaroya Research Institute at Virginia Mason (BRI) are studying COVID-19 patient blood samples to understand the immune response to this deadly virus. With more than 30 Virginia Mason team members and BRI researchers collaborating, research is happening at an unprecedented pace to help combat the COVID-19 public health crisis.

By examining these samples, researchers are aiming to learn what predicts whether someone will have a good versus poor outcome of infection. Many of the worst outcomes in COVID-19 are driven by an overactive immune response sometimes called “cytokine storm,” which researchers hope to one day be able to predict. Research efforts are being led by BRI President Jane Buckner, MD and Virginia Mason Infectious Disease Physician Uma Malhotra, MD, with a large team of supporting scientists and researchers including BRI Principal Investigator Cate Speake, PhD.

“Studying patient samples lets us learn what an effective immune response to COVID-19 looks like,” Dr. Speake says. “Right now, patient data lets us find new ways to predict outcomes in hospitalized people. Our next steps are to start looking at another big question: whether people who have recovered from COVID-19 are still susceptible, or whether they are all protected from future bouts of infection.”

Since the first week of April, research teams have collected and analyzed over 250 samples from 55 COVID-19 patients seen at Virginia Mason, with varying levels of disease severity. The study includes people who were treated in the ICU; those who were hospitalized but not in the ICU; and patients who went to the ER or other Virginia Mason clinics for testing but were able to recover at home.

BRI team members collaborating to make this research possible include study coordinators, data scientists, lab staff, sample processors and phlebotomists. Most teams are working seven days a week to ensure samples can continually be collected and processed. And the work is being done at a remarkable speed. A process that typically takes up to several years – from writing grants and obtaining the funding to sharing study findings – has been shrunk to mere months, a result of BRI’s agility, state-of-the-art technology and the world-class expertise they’ve been honing for decades.

A key goal of this rapid research response is to generate data and learnings about this novel virus that can be applied to inform treatments and vaccines. Watch our news as we share our progress. If you want to support this research, please consider donating to BRI’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Fund

Fighting Diseases

May 26, 2020

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