When Greg Grecco looked around the laboratory where he trains at Indiana University School of Medicine, the MD-PhD student noticed a surplus of some personal protective equipment (PPE)—items in short supply internationally due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gloves. Disposable gowns. Respirators. Face shields. Goggles.
There’s a shortage of these essential medical protective gear among health care workers across the globe as the novel coronavirus, called COVID-19, continues to spread.
With all in-person research activities at IU School of Medicine—and at all IU campuses—limited to essential research, many laboratories don’t need as many materials as usual, presenting an opportunity for researchers to assist front-line health care workers.
Grecco, who completed two years of medical school through the IU School of Medicine Medical Science Training Program before pursuing his PhD, said he still keeps up with his fellow medical trainees who are seeing the impact of the PPE shortage at area hospitals.
“I thought it was crazy that I could still walk into our animal housing facility anytime and throw on N95s, gloves or gowns without restriction; yet, 100 yards away in IU Health Methodist Hospital, PPE was slowly becoming a commodity,” Grecco said. “So, it seemed like this was a time to come together as a community and put the safety of our health care providers and patients first, especially if we had the resources to do so.”
Over the past few weeks, IU employees have collected tens of thousands of masks and other PPE supplies for hospitals and first responders across the state, which included close to 20,000 N95 respirators earmarked for IU Health hospitals in Indianapolis and Bloomington.
At Stark Neurosciences Research Institute, six faculty laboratories donated nearly 200 boxes of supplies for IU Health. Mostly boxes of protective gloves, the researchers also sent boxes of N95 masks, face shields, goggles and disposable gowns.
Members of the institute’s operations team loaded an SUV with dozens upon dozens of boxes and dropped them off at IU Police Department offices on IUPUI’s campus, where IU Public Safety and Institutional Assurance have been collecting supplies for IU Health.
Faculty and staff from the Herman B Wells Center for Pediatric Research also dropped off several boxes of PPE, including gloves, shields, goggles and hundreds of respirators.
“We’re so grateful for the generosity of our friends and partners at IU School of Medicine,” said Joe Meyer, senior vice president of system operations at IU Health. “These much-needed supplies will help us ensure our team members are protected and able to care for patients during this unprecedented time.”
The principal investigator of the Stark Neurosciences Research Institute lab where Grecco studies, Brady K. Atwood, PhD, assistant professor of pharmacology and toxicology, said hospitals have a greater need for supplies than laboratories in hibernation. He’s advised his lab staff to use what PPE they have sparingly, so most can go to IU Health hospitals.
Fuqin Yin, a research analyst and lab manager in Atwood’s lab, said doctors, nurses and other health care providers are “the health guards for the public.”
“May these cold gloves convey the caring heart behind us,” Yin said. “Only by protecting them in the face of the pandemic can we have real safety.”
The Model Organism Development and Evaluation for Late-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease (MODEL-AD) laboratory, which Bruce Lamb, PhD, executive director of Stark Neuroscience Research Institute, serves as co-principal investigator, as well as Lamb’s own faculty lab, donated 80 boxes of PPE, including gloves, disposable masks, goggles and disposable lab coats.
Adrian Oblak, PhD, center manager for MODEL-AD and assistant professor of radiology and imaging services, said it was a “no brainer” when she and others in the labs found out they could donate PPE for IU Health employees and other first responders.
“They are on the front lines and need the protection more than laboratory staff right now,” Oblak said.
Jingwu Xie, PhD, cancer researcher at the Wells Center and professor of pediatrics, was eager to hand-deliver PPE for IU Health. In the Indiana county where COVID-19 is most widespread—Marion County—Xie said that keeping health care workers and other first responders protected from exposure to the virus is paramount.
“Making our first-line medical responders safe will be the most important job in our fight of COVID-19,” Xie said. “I am 100 percent certain that we will defeat COVID-19, an enemy of the people, in the near future as long as we work together.”