Spotlight on south London COVID-19 research laboratory team
We spoke to Dr Harry Jarrett, the COVID-19 Research Laboratory Coordinator at Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust, about his work, what he enjoys about his job, the priorities for the year ahead and why ongoing National Institute for Health and Care Research supported research into COVID-19 is essential.
What is your role?
I am the COVID-19 Research Laboratory Coordinator at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, a post I have held for over two years. In this role, I oversee the laboratories responsible for the pre-analytical processing of research volunteer samples from the ongoing COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic clinical trials. The correct processing, storage and shipment of these precious samples is integral since variations can impact the results of the final analyses and, subsequently, the clinical trial outcomes.
What are some of the things you enjoy most about your role?
I enjoy working in a large team with close lines of communication. I meet people from various backgrounds and expertise and learn much from colleagues. I work closely with research nurses and practitioners, our administration and data management teams, principal investigators and research physicians.
One of my favourite parts of this role is implementing new laboratory processes and techniques. For instance, peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMCs) provide valuable insight into the cellular immune response post-vaccination and, as such, are routinely requested in vaccine trials. Mentoring our laboratory team, seeing their skills and experience develop and then watching them grow from Laboratory Assistants to Technicians and beyond is a fantastic part of the job.
Why is COVID-19 research still important?
As the virus continues to mutate, new variants will come into circulation, potentially initiating new waves of the pandemic. We must be able to respond with new vaccines discovered through research which targets these variants. Some groups are less likely to mount an effective immune response post-vaccination and are, therefore, at a greater risk of severe COVID-19. It is important to continue researching and developing effective preventative treatments in these at-risk groups.
There are also a number of patients who continue to experience persistent and debilitating COVID-19 symptoms, known as Long COVID. At least 65 million people are estimated to be living with Long COVID, a multi-system condition with a plethora of different symptoms, which can include fatigue and cognitive dysfunction, persisting for months or even years. We previously took part in an observational trial to further our understanding of this condition. However, further research into Long COVID treatments is urgently needed. This year, we will support a trial that aims to investigate the impact of a rheumatoid arthritis medication on the health-related quality of life in individuals with Long COVID.
What are some of the challenges you face in your role?
The unpredictable nature of COVID-19 still presents some considerable challenges for our team. For example, we developed a new laboratory to process COVID-19-positive samples during the pandemic. The use of this laboratory does, however, require some planning as it takes a considerable amount of time to process such samples safely. Several current clinical trials request that we process samples from known COVID-19-positive participants. As such, this can make it difficult to predict the laboratory demands and staffing requirements in any given week, mainly when we see an increase in the circulation of COVID-19 in the community.
Setting up new clinical trials is always an exciting part of the study cycle. However, it poses challenges since every clinical trial has different laboratory processing requests.
What are your priorities for 2024 in your role?
We will continue to grow our laboratory capacity to facilitate our ever-growing portfolio of COVID-19 research but with a particular focus on furthering our vaccine research into other infectious diseases.
Is there anything else you'd like to add?
I want to thank all of our research volunteers for their time and commitment to our trials. Without their participation, we would not be able to conduct the research, and there would be no samples! A number of our previous research volunteers have supported the licensing of novel COVID-19 vaccines during the pandemic.
Our centre is still conducting clinical trials investigating the efficacy of vaccines for COVID-19 and beyond to other infectious diseases such as flu and Mpox. To find out more information or if you would like to enquire about taking part, please email COVID19Vaccine@gstt.nhs.uk