April 2020. The hospital, restless, mobilizes its troops like an army. A new coronavirus has emerged and is spreading like wildfire throughout the population. Unknown to the medical community, it sparks fear and concern. SARS, a closely related coronavirus that hit Toronto in 2003, is still fresh in everyone’s minds. A counter-attack is quickly organized. The teams at the CHUM Research Centre (CRCHUM) are prepared to lend a hand

Print and protect

To support the hospital crews in their fight against COVID‑19, researchers from the CRCHUM, the École de technologie supérieure and the CIUSSS du Nord-de-l’île-de-Montréal set up a 3D printing service for medical equipment.

From the very start of the pandemic, the team, headed by Jacques A. de Guise, created prototypes and printed material and protective equipment to meet hospital needs until the usual suppliers were able to keep up with demand.

Their goal was to quickly manufacture face shields, swabs for COVID‑19 testing and adaptors for protective mask filters and for connections to respirators.

The scientific team quickly delivered 1,000 face shields to CHUM healthcare workers. They aimed to produce at least 500 shields per day, relying on the CHUM’s existing 3D printing equipment.

François DeBlois et Stéphane Bedwani, both medical physicists and CRCHUM researchers, provided their expertise and the services of the Carrefour d’impression 3D en santé (healthcare 3D printing centre), which usually serves the needs of their radiation oncology department and other sectors of the hospital.

In an open, collaborative spirit, the Quebec scientific community mobilized to support the healthcare teams on site. Industrial partners, fab labs, living labs, and even citizens and students with 3D printers joined the ranks to fight COVID‑19.

Better treatments through artificial intelligence

Another way to fight the pandemic is to develop machine learning models able to diagnose COVID‑19 early and identify patients at a high risk of clinical deterioration or death. These models would help doctors better treat their patients and optimize the planning of hospital resources.

To reach this level of sophistication, it is first necessary to collect large sets of clinical, laboratory and radiology data from adult patients who are suspected of being infected with COVID‑19 or whose infection has been confirmed.

Other information is also compiled to allow for further analyses: treatment and outcome, length of time spent in the hospital or in intensive care, time spent under invasive mechanical ventilation or in-hospital death.

In collaboration with nine other hospitals (eight in Quebec and one in Ontario), Dr. Michael Chassé, a researcher and intensivist, embarked on this big data search mission and heads the project entitled Collaborative Data Analysis to Improve Clinical Care in Patients with COVID‑19. The team behind the project attaches great importance to privacy protection, data confidentiality and data access control.

Breaking the isolation

With the implementation of a lockdown to limit the spread of the virus, hospitals suspended volunteers’ visits and activities with patients. Hospitalized patients and their families found themselves suddenly isolated.

Far from being discouraged, certain institutions reacted by implementing promising practices developed in Quebec and elsewhere around the world. Dr. Marie-Pascale Pomey made a list of them in a white paper.

In the difficult health context of the pandemic, maintaining social connections was essential.

At the CHUM, for example, 150 smart phones were lent to patients wanting to contact their families and friends. To break the isolation, volunteers also called hospitalized patients who were unable to receive visits or deprived of contact with people outside the hospital. Other institutions allowed people living in long-term hospital centres (CHSLD) to stay in contact visually with their family and friends through a window overlooking a garden or through a glass door.

These are but a few examples among the 40 listed in the white paper that helped reduce the impacts of isolation while minimizing the risk of contamination. A paper that brought hope to so many.

Resupplying the front line

During the first wave of the pandemic, personal protective equipment quickly ran out. The hospital appealed to the Research Centre’s solidarity. The call was heard, loud and clear.

More than 35 basic research and core facility teams, the research technical support department and Honeywell generously gave more than 300 boxes of gloves, more than 50 boxes of N95 masks and about a hundred boxes of surgical masks—not to mention the gowns, face shields, protective eyewear and the lending of two -80 °C freezers to store messenger RNA vaccines, as well as COVID testing equipment.

Ravitailler la ligne de front

Lors de la première vague de la pandémie, les équipements de protection individuelle viennent rapidement à manquer. L’hôpital fait appel à la solidarité du Centre de recherche. L’appel est entendu. Clair et fort.

Plus de 35 équipes de recherche fondamentale et des plateformes, le Service de soutien technique à la recherche et Honeywell ont généreusement donné plus de 300 boîtes de gants, plus de 50 boîtes de masques N95 et une centaine de boîtes de masques de chirurgie. Sans compter les blouses, les visières, les lunettes de protection ou les prêts de deux congélateurs à -80 °C pour entreposer les vaccins à ARN messager et d’équipements pour dépister la COVID.