Lab Week 2020 and Convalescent Plasma Therapy Initiative

Published by David B. Roth, MD, PhD, on April 20, 2020

April 20 Update: From the Chair

Dear Members of the Pathology and Laboratory Medicine Community,

Traditionally, this week marks the time of "Medical Laboratory Professionals Week," an annual celebration of medical laboratory professionals who play a vital role in health care and patient advocacy. But every day, we are now seeing how essential lab testing and diagnostics are for patient care. And virtually every person who experiences the world or watches the news now knows how critical our work is -- and wants us to do more of it.

There are approximately 300,000 practitioners of clinical laboratory science in the United States working in the diagnosis and prevention of disease today. Clinical laboratory personnel are essential members of a health-care team. This year's 45th Laboratory Professionals Week is sponsored by the American Society for Clinical Pathology (ASCP) and 16 other laboratory medicine organizations under the theme of "Fellowship of the Lab: One Team to Diagnose Them All." It is true -- now more than ever-- that all of us involved in health care must be "Fellows of the Lab." I have said several times before and I am happy to say it again: it is the greatest honor of my career to work with the incredible laboratory professionals here at UPHS.

The Penn Medicine Department of Communications issued a press release about a new two-part research initiative on convalescent plasma therapy for COVID-19 patients. Researchers will first collect plasma from people who have recovered from their infection under a donor research protocol. The second part involves conducting clinical trials to test the safety and efficacy of giving that plasma to moderately and severely ill hospitalized patients. Dr. Katharine Bar, assistant professor of Infectious Diseases, is leading the clinical trial team at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and Penn Presbyterian Medical Center. Dr. Nicole Aqui, associate professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine and Director of our Residency Program, is leading the transfusion-medicine team that began a research protocol to collect plasma from recovered COVID-19 patients last week. Dr. Andrew Fesnak, assistant professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, is a co-investigator on the donor protocol.

The press release includes a quote from Emma Meagher, Vice Dean for Clinical Research, who said: "what takes Penn's investigative approach to the highest level is the integrated partnership between Immunologists, Microbiologists, Transfusion Medicine Physicians, Critical Care Physicians, Infectious Disease researchers and pulmonologists who are working side by side with great urgency and precision to more deeply understand the disease and the full impact of this and several other interventions."

Two other important developments here at Penn Medicine:          

The Workforce Wellness Committee is looking for volunteers to serve in mental health support roles. Since the launch of PennCobalt, a new digital behavioral health platform designed by the Department of Psychiatry in partnership with the Center for Health Care Innovation, there has been an increase in the demand for all levels of support. Currently they are looking for PennPeers volunteers for virtual peer support and non-clinical Coping First Aid volunteers trained in evidence-based psychological first aid. Licensed clinicians with experience in psychotherapy and/or medication management are also needed.

Researchers at the Center for Digital Health have built a tool that uses tweets about COVID-19 to predict and map virus hotspots across the country. Between 4 million and 5 million coronavirus-related tweets are analyzed daily to create the Twitter map that chronicles changes in sentiment, language and tweets per capita over time. The Philadelphia Inquirer published an article on this new tool here.

On a personal note: I have received so much encouraging and positive feedback about these updates. Thank you for this! Remember that you can access previous updates at any time by clicking here.

Finally, an update for those of you following the ongoing sourdough story. A few days ago, I noticed that my sourdough "mother" (the source of the yeast) was smelling a bit off. This got progressively worse over time. Last week I threw out the sourdough. What had changed? As a scientist, I went back to my notes and realized that the timing of the change in the flour. I had started using a new bag (of the same brand) the day before things started to go south. How to rescue this situation? Luckily, I had shared my sourdough "mother" with a friend, and she was able to drop some off (using a safe transfer protocol). With the new flour, I have now recovered a healthy batch of sourdough and will be back in business later this week. Take-home lessons from this story? 1) Thinking like a scientist can be helpful, and 2) Sharing with others is not only good, it can end up helping you in unexpected ways.

Please continue to take care of yourselves and help others whenever you can.

David Roth

David B. Roth, MD, PhD, is the Simon Flexner Professor and Chair of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these blog columns are those of the authors or other attributed individuals and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Department, Penn Medicine, or the University of Pennsylvania. Health information is provided for educational purposes and should not be used as a source of medical advice or diagnosis.