Research lab changes focus and moves to new lab space during pandemic

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The emergence of COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic has changed many aspects of our lives, from how we interact with others to how we work. These changes have been felt in all industries, including research laboratories. Tony Moody, MD, and his lab at Duke University faced a series of complex challenges as the team moved from research to COVID-19 testing, expanded to adapt to new workloads of work and moved to a more suitable space, while maintaining exit from pandemic testing and restrictions.

Moody’s Laboratory and the Duke Human Vaccine Institute

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Moody, Professor of Pediatrics and Associate Professor of Immunology at Duke University, focused his lab’s research on understanding B-cell responses during infection, vaccination, and sickness. Moody is also director of the Duke Human Vaccine Institute (DHVI) Adherence and Biorepository Unit. DHVI researchers develop new vaccines and treatments for a wide variety of diseases, while the biorepository acts as a shared resource hub that processes and stores samples from human and non-human primate studies to support research in the DHVI. The biodeposit currently houses approximately one million samples from vaccination studies performed at DHVI.

URA and biodepot personnel processing samples from an influenza vaccine study.

Isabelle Wright

To help ease managerial tension and assist with vaccine research, Thad Gurley, MS, has been appointed Senior Director of the Research Laboratory and Deputy Director of the Accession Unit and Biorepository. A graduate of North Carolina State University, Gurley started at a small pharmaceutical company before working with GlaxoSmithKline in the clinical virology group. After earning his master’s degree in microbiology and immunology, Gurley continued his vaccine research, joining Moody’s Lab in 2006. “Since I started in Tony’s lab, I’ve been doing cutting-edge vaccine research,” says Gurley. .

Growth and shifting priorities

The Accession Unit and Biorepository has grown significantly over the past five years, from being able to process and store approximately 15,000 samples in 2017 to managing over 75,000 in 2021. However, growth from Moody’s Lab and the Biodepot has manifested in other ways as Good. With the COVID-19 pandemic and the need for testing centers that can handle the sudden large influx of COVID-19 testing, Moody’s Laboratory has grown from a purely research facility to launching a COVID-19 testing program in August 2020. Specifically, the Moody’s lab focused on receiving, acquiring, pooling, and storing nasal swabs, adding an increased workload to the lab and to Gurley. “As we shifted to COVID-19 testing, my other roles haven’t diminished,” Gurley says. “I have remained busy leading the lab team, the accession unit and biodeposit team, and the COVID-19 testing team.”

Lab technician placing the sample inside a bag.

UA and biodepot staff set up sample shipment.

Isabelle Wright

To accommodate these new workflows, 20 additional employees were hired to work two shifts. This change also required significant managerial adjustments. “I realized that six months into the test program I needed to identify the first and second shift team leaders because I couldn’t manage a two-shift team well. work,” says Gurley. “I was able to identify a crew chief from each shift who stood out and now he’s been in the crew chief position for a year.”

“Since I started in Tony’s lab, I’ve done cutting-edge vaccine research.”

Fortunately, much of the expertise and skills in acquiring, pooling, and storing specimens from past work done by the Moody’s Lab could be used for this new project. This knowledge facilitated the transition and as a result, Moody’s lab has tested over 950,000 nasal swabs since the program began.

Gurley credits the success of the COVID-19 testing program and the growth of the laboratory and adherence unit and biodeposit program to the strength of their team and lessons learned over the past two years, saying, “ There have been some tough times on the staffing side over the past two years, but I’m really proud of the teams we’ve built in the lab, accession unit and biodepot, and the team COVID-19 test. »

Moving during a pandemic

Laboratory technician loading samples into a centrifuge.

Accession Unit (AU) and biodepot staff working with COVID-19 vaccine study samples.

Isabelle Wright

The challenges caused by the pandemic were not just limited to staffing and testing. When Moody’s lab was contracted in 2021 by the NIH to work on a flu vaccine, it quickly became clear that they would need more lab space and biodepot. The physical move from the main campus of Duke University to the Duke Research Triangle Park campus in July 2021 was a Herculean effort that required moving a large amount of delicate equipment as well as numerous cold storage units. “We worked with a moving company that used two trucks that allowed us to plug in the cold storage units, so we never lost power during the move, except for the brief time the units were moved. from the lab to the truck. We moved 60 cold rooms in three days and didn’t lose a freezer during the move,” says Gurley.

Communication, delegation and trust are the keys to success

Lab technician looking into a freezer.

UA and biodepot staff shown here working in an LN2 freezer.

Isabelle Wright

In the face of these seemingly overwhelming obstacles, the Moody Lab learned a valuable lesson: clear communication between teams and the delegation of management tasks were necessary to effectively address the various challenges they faced. “One thing I’ve learned over the past year is the need to delegate tasks to team leaders within each group I lead,” says Gurley. Delegation requires trust, however, and it doesn’t happen overnight. To address this issue, Gurley held weekly team meetings to foster better communication about what had been done and what each team was planning for the next week. “Good communication builds trust and once that trust is built, delegating tasks should be pretty easy.”

“There have been some tough times with staffing over the past two years, but I’m really proud of the teams we’ve built in the lab, accession unit and biodepot, and the COVID-19 testing team. 19.”

Between a massive change in direction, an increased workload, a physical move, and the restrictions of a pandemic, Moody’s Lab achieved its goals through effective management and good communication. Looking to the future, Gurley is optimistic and says: “Although the last two years have been extremely difficult for our team, I have really been able to grow as a leader and I look forward to leading the teams as we continue to grow. let’s look to the future.” .” Whatever challenges Moody’s Lab faces, they are confident that the lessons of delegation and management learned during the pandemic will help them adapt and overcome.

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