COVID-19 biorepository will enable researchers to study response to disease

June 19, 2020
Patrick Flume stands in a hallway and chats with a woman
Dr. Patrick Flume is the co-principal investigator at the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute. Photo by Sarah Pack

A Medical University of South Carolina team has been systematically building up a biorepository of COVID-19 patient samples for the past two months and will soon be ready to distribute portions to researchers. 

Patrick Flume, M.D., a pulmonologist and co-principal investigator of the South Carolina Clinical & Translational Research (SCTR) Institute, said a working group was established last week to advise on the best use of the samples.

“It’s a precious and finite resource, so we want to make sure it goes to the best science,” he said.

So far, the only samples distributed have been to researchers at MUSC and Clemson University working on antibody test development.

To collect samples, the biorepository has been able to take advantage of MUSC’s statewide reach. MUSC Health Florence, which has cared for a greater number of COVID-19 patients than University Hospital in Charleston, joined the effort earlier this month and has already submitted samples from eight inpatients.

“It's a terribly important project. We're especially grateful to those who are willing to donate, because it’s not going to help them directly. It's about trying to find something that will help other people. We take that with great seriousness and gratitude.”

Patrick Flume, M.D.

Flume noted that there’s a careful balance in asking the regional hospitals to participate in research, something they hadn’t done before being acquired by MUSC Health in 2019. Last fall, the SCTR team had started to explore expanding clinical trials to the regional hospitals; when the coronavirus pandemic hit, that plan accelerated.

Amy Gandy, SCTR Research Nexus Laboratory manager, said that altogether the team has collected blood and saliva samples from 54 patients, including a total of 10 inpatients. Each blood donation can be subdivided into multiple samples, which can then be provided to a variety of researchers.

The biorepository also received about 10,000 nasopharyngeal swabs after they went through diagnostic testing for COVID-19, which the team then sorted according to whether they had tested positive or negative, Gandy said.

The research that can be done with these samples won’t be on the virus itself but will provide insights into the body’s immune response, Flume said. There are a lot of questions that can be answered based on immune response, he noted. MUSC Health also has clinical data about each patient that can be shared with researchers based on the level of approval they receive from the Institutional Review Board.

To date, the biorepository holds almost 1,575 samples, Gandy said. Though that may sound like a lot, there continues to be a need for more, and research coordinators are seeking more COVID-19 patients who are willing to donate.

“It's a terribly important project. We're especially grateful to those who are willing to donate, because it’s not going to help them directly. It's about trying to find something that will help other people. We take that with great seriousness and gratitude,” Flume said.

 

About the Author

Leslie Cantu

Keywords: COVID-19, Research