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IN IT TOGETHER: A focus on COVID-19 research

Posted Jun 16th, 2020

IN IT TOGETHER: A focus on COVID-19 research

This is part of a series of stories profiling members of the Niagara Health team and the work they are doing as part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Meet Dr. Jennifer Tsang, an Intensivist and Research Lead.

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Dr. Jennifer Tsang’s passion for medical research.

Ask her a question about research and you can hear the enthusiasm in her voice as she proudly lists the research projects happening at Niagara Health and what she envisions for the future.

“Research has a profound impact on the health and wellbeing of the people who live in our communities,” says Dr. Tsang. “It provides vital information about disease trends and risk factors, outcomes of treatment and patterns of care, to name a few."

Dr. Tsang is a Niagara Health Intensivist, a physician who cares for critically ill patients. She is also our Research Lead, and has been instrumental in fostering the growth of research at Niagara Health.

During the pandemic, Dr. Tsang has been part of the NH team leading COVID research studies and creating opportunities for Niagara patients to participate in clinical trials related to the virus. Clinical trials are research studies involving patient participants that aim to find out whether a medical treatment is safe and effective for people.

In April, a case study Dr. Tsang wrote on a COVID patient with Severe Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome was published in the medical journal Clinical Medical Reviews and Case Reports. The case report examined the management and care of a COVID patient in the Intensive Care Unit in the early days of the pandemic. The report can be used as a learning for other healthcare providers.

Niagara Health patients are currently part of a COVID-related clinical trial evaluating multiple treatment options for community-acquired pneumonia. A large number of patients in the international study are COVID-19 positive or suspected of having the virus, which can cause severe pneumonia.

Dr. Tsang is especially enthusiastic about a clinical trial Niagara Health patients will soon be able to join – the World Health Organization’s Solidarity Trial. The study is hoping to find an effective treatment for COVID-19.

“They’re testing multiple drugs at the same time to see which ones are effective,” says Dr. Tsang. “Niagara Health patients who are part of the study will be cared for by our physicians. We will collect data and closely monitor their progress. The data will be sent to the central research site anonymously. What drugs they are taking, their laboratory values and clinical progress will be recorded by our team and the data will be sent to the central research site, where it will be analyzed at the international level.

“Being part of clinical trials gives patients in Niagara access to state-of-the-art and effective COVID-19 treatment options,” she adds.

Dr. Tsang is also leading a national study on the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare providers who work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), which cares for the most critically ill patients.

“We are looking at healthcare workers’ risk of getting the disease while looking after patients with COVID-19, and we’re also looking at healthcare workers’ stress level,” she says.

The study, which is in progress, has surveyed approximately 350 healthcare workers, including members of the Niagara Health team.

Why did she pursue the study?

“I thought we needed to look at the impact of COVID-19 on healthcare workers,” she says. “We need to get some data on the transmission risk of the disease to healthcare workers so that we can learn from it. If we have another pandemic in the future, we can be more prepared. Also, the healthcare workers’ mental health is very important because they are the ones who are looking after our patients.”


Dr. Tsang and other healthcare providers, including Niagara Health Clinical Pharmacist Dimitra Fleming, Intensivist Dr. Erick Duan and Infectious Diseases Specialist Dr. George Farjou, recently had a letter published in the esteemed Canadian Medical Association Journal calling for the need for increased pandemic research in community hospital Intensive Care Units across Canada.

Overall, more than 65 per cent of Canadian patients receive care in community hospitals, but, historically, most medical research is conducted in academic hospitals in larger centres, including COVID-related research.

“We need more community hospitals participating in pandemic research. We received data that showed on one day in April, 70 per cent of the ICU COVID patients were being cared for in a community hospital in Canada,” says Dr. Tsang. “But most of the studies are carried out in academic hospitals. So we are missing out on a lot of patients. Our message for the letter is a call to extend research in community hospitals, especially for pandemic research.”

Dr. Tsang and others are taking action to help make that happen through the Canadian Community ICU Research Network, an organization she helped to launch last year. The research network, a first of its kind in Canada, looks to support the growth of research in Intensive Care Units at community hospitals.

“We have launched a survey to community hospitals in Canada to see how we can help them develop their research program so that they can participate in pandemic research,” she says. “I’ve also been talking directly to various hospitals to provide tips on how they can set up a research program.”


Two members of our Radiology team were part of an international study exploring risk factors of mortality and ICU admissions in COVID-19 patients using combined CT (Computed tomography scan) and clinical laboratory data. The findings of Cardiothoracic and Breast Radiologist Dr. Ali Sabri, Chief of Diagnostic Imaging Dr. Julian Dobranowski and other members of the research team were published in the Polish Archives of Internal Medicine. Read the study here.

Niagara Health Anesthesiologist Dr. Ekta Khemani, who is also an Assistant Professor in McMaster University’s Department of Anesthesia, recently had a guideline about “Non-Operating Room Anesthesia and the COVID-19 Patient: Evidence Based Strategies” published in The Scientific Research. Read it here.


Niagara Health’s journey to become a community-based research and academic centre began several years ago. Our dedicated Research Office, which is led by Dr. Tsang and Zeau Ismail, Director, Interprofessional Practice, Ethics & Research, was established to strengthen our research and academic partnerships and set out to conduct research that would inform care, inspire innovation and create environments of collaborative learning. Learn more about our Research program here.

Read more stories about our team here.

Niagara Health System