British Columbia

B.C. needs COVID-19 patients to join research studies. These 2 women are doing just that

B.C. researchers say they need more volunteers for COVID-19 studies. If you want to work with medical researchers and share your experiences with the disease, a new website connecting patients with researchers can help make it happen.

New online platform aims to connect more patients with virus research projects

A scientist at a Vancouver biotech firm conducts COVID-19 research. British Columbians who have had the disease can now sign up online to participate in clinical studies or partner with medical professionals to help inform patient care. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Jaclyn Robinson, 42, was the picture of health until she contracted COVID-19 in March and ended up on a ventilator fighting for her life.

Now, after living through what she describes as the scariest chapter of her life, the mother of three is one of many British Columbians sharing their experiences with medical researchers. And B.C. researchers are looking for other patients like Robinson to participate.

To help facilitate that connection, a new online portal called REACH BC has been created by the B.C. Support Unit —  a multi-partner organization that aims to support and increase patient-oriented research throughout the province.

Volunteers can participate in clinical trials, or become a patient partner and help work with a team to conduct research and help set research priorities.

Robinson, who is a nurse at Vancouver General Hospital, is taking part in several clinical studies, including ones related to serology testing, blood, and plasma research. She is also a patient partner in a post-COVID-19 interdisciplinary care clinic, where her experiences help inform a network of specialists who care for people who have been diagnosed and are in recovery.

Jaclyn Robinson, in black top with blonde hair, says she finally has the energy to bike ride again with her three daughters, Ellie, 15, and twins Charlotte and Mia, 12, after being diagnosed with COVID-19 six months ago. Her and her husband, Kirk, are both now participating in patient studies to help medical experts learn more about the virus. (Jaclyn Robinson)

"I almost lost my life to this, so I am very motivated to learn more and help others avoid what I went through," Robinson said Thursday on The Early Edition. "It was an extremely hard place as a patient when you go to your follow-up appointment and most of the team's responses to my questions were, 'We don't know yet.'"

As a patient partner, Robinson says she has weekly phone calls with different medical specialists to help them develop clinics that provide specialized care for people like her who have been hospitalized with the virus and recovered.

Lower Mainland resident, Beverley Pomeroy, is a patient partner with the B.C. Academic Health Science Network. She said she is not just a subject for researchers, but also part of the research team.

Pomeroy, 50, is presumed to have had COVID-19 in the spring and, after experiencing chills and body pains, ended up in the emergency ward after a cardiac episode.

Beverley Pomeroy has participated in patient partner studies before but says the pandemic has increased the need for members of the public to share their COVID-19 experiences with medical professionals to better inform patient care. (Beverley Pomeroy)

"No one knows what to do with me, so we're just sort of treating the symptoms as they occur," said Pomeroy, also speaking Thursday on The Early Edition.

She said she is waiting for serology testing to be available to her to determine if she had the virus, but is already involved in partner patient research that includes working with cardiology experts.

"It's a small number of people who've had COVID, or have tested positive for COVID here in B.C., so these researchers are all clamouring for these patients," said Pomeroy.

A medical lab technician draws a blood sample for a point-of-care COVID-19 serology test at the B.C Centre for Disease Control lab in Vancouver, B.C. The tests can determine if a person has had COVID-19 if virus antibodies are detected in the blood. (Ben Nelms/CBC)

Pomeroy participated in research studies before the pandemic and said the current health crisis has prompted more medical professionals to want to work with patient partners and REACH BC is helping make that happen.

"Researchers now realize [they] can't do this without public involvement, [they] can't do this without having a patient partner engaged in our team to actually make sure that these research dollars are going where they need to be," she said.

And those patient partners, like Pomeroy, don't necessarily need to have tested positive to participate.

Robinson said she was tested in the spring because she works in health care but her husband, Kirk Robinson, was not. He has since had a serology test that confirmed he has virus antibodies and is also participating in studies.

According to Stefanie Cheah, a project manager at the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, there are 31 active projects people can participate in posted on REACH BC, but not all of the studies are related to COVID-19.

More than 800 British Columbians have signed up on the website so far.

To hear the complete interview with Jaclyn Robinson and Beverley Pomeroy on The Early Edition, tap here.

With files from The Early Edition

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