Thousands of samples are carefully collected throughout the course of a clinical trial at the PCRU. And each one comes to Wendy Becker and her team in the laboratory.
As Wendy explains, there are basically two types of samples she sees.
The first are the tests that make sure the volunteers are healthy enough to participate in a study.
“Pretty much the same tests you’d get during an annual checkup at the doctor’s office,” Wendy says. Then, if they join the study, the lab keeps testing, to make sure the participants stay healthy.
The second kind of sample are the those taken throughout the study, after participants have received the study drug. These samples help scientists better understand how the potential medicine is tolerated over time.
For most studies there are thousands of sealed, barcoded tubes with color-coded caps.
“We get to help work on a possible solution to a global pandemic here. How many people can say that about their jobs?”
For large studies there are thousands more.
“And really, we’re just a small facility here,” Wendy explains. Too small to test all those samples in-house. Instead, her team logs each new sample into a computer, then freezes it to be shipped out to another facility overseas.
That part of the job requires a great deal of focus and organization. And a lot of boxes and tape.
And shipping forms. And customs forms. And calendars. And dry ice to keep those samples frozen as they travel.
“All together, it can be a lot of work,” Wendy admits.
Then came COVID, and that workload skyrocketed.
“It’s been extra urgent,” she says of her lab’s new role as gatekeeper to the PCRU.
“Nobody gets inside this facility without a negative COVID test,” Wendy says.
The addition of COVID tests meant hundreds more samples for Wendy’s team, every single one of them to be processed ASAP.
Then the PCRU began their most ambitious trial to date: the study of a potential medicine for COVID-19. “We want to get people screened, get them into the study. Then get them dosed, get those samples, and ship them out.” Wendy says. “So yeah, it can be a little bit stressful. It’s a lot of work.”
The machines in Wendy’s lab never stop whirring and dinging.
As a veteran technologist with 40 years of experience at a lab bench, 14 of them with Pfizer, Wendy has worked on all types of tests and trials.
“But I never imagined I’d be working on something like this,” she laughs. “Never.”
“It’s inspiring - to see that you are part of something bigger, something that helps people.”
“I mean, we get to help work on a possible solution to a global pandemic here,” Wendy says. “That’s pretty cool - how many people can say that about their jobs?”