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Researchers donate protective equipment to KU Health System

COVID-19 caused shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the globe.Here's how researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center helped out.

Gloves and surgical masks on a blue background
Personal protective equipment is in short supply, so researchers from KU Medical Center donated 39,500 gloves and 4,000 surgical masks.

Researchers from the University of Kansas Medical Center donated much-needed equipment to help their colleagues at The University of Kansas Health System currently caring for patients with suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19.

The virus caused shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE) across the globe, which health care workers need to protect themselves from becoming infected.

"In this time of amazing circumstances, we are all working together to rally behind our health care partners and do what we can to provide a safe environment," explained Michelle Winter, B.S., core operations manager of Disease Model and Assessment Services at KU Medical Center.

‘Our clinical colleagues'

The call for donations came from Peter Smith, Ph.D., senior associate dean for research in the KU School of Medicine. In an email, he wrote: "There is currently dire need for PPE by the KU Health System. ... I can't stress enough how important this is to our clinical colleagues who are risking their lives to keep us healthy! Please do what you can!"

At a collection point in Hixson Atrium, personnel piled their donations atop tables and benches while maintaining social-distancing rules. Ryan Werth, director of research integrity at KU Medical Center, staffed the collection point and said about two dozen different research labs from KU Medical Center donated equipment.

Researchers donated nearly 4,000 surgical masks and 39,500 gloves of various sizes, as well as some N-95 masks, gowns, lab coats and disinfectant wipes.

‘We have these items'

Doug Wright, Ph.D., professor and vice chair in Anatomy and Cell Biology, said he didn't think twice about donating PPE from his neuroscience research lab. "I work closely with clinicians, so I'm acutely aware of the concerns that they have for PPE," he said. "I think the entire research community feels strongly that we can support them, particularly when we have shelves of PPE that we use in our normal daily activities."

Researchers in basic science around the United States have answered the call for PPE, since they use gowns, gloves and masks to protect their researchers from germs and chemicals. The PPE also is needed to avoid contamination of experiments, which might nullify the results.

"A tangible benefit for the hospital is that the basic science community can quickly contribute through donations because we all have these protective items in our labs," Wright said.

‘It just made sense'

Since mid-March, however, most campus research labs are closed to observe social distancing mandates in the greater Kansas City area. These mandates are a precaution to slow the spread of the virus and avoid inundating hospitals, but it's brought countless workplaces - including research labs - to a near standstill.

Julie Carlsten Christianson, Ph.D., associate professor of Anatomy and Cell Biology, said her lab has "gone into hibernation" during the pandemic, so she donated her lab's PPE. "We can't use it, and it can be used to save lives, so it just made sense to donate it," she said.

In fact, the National Institutes of Health supported the donation of PPE from researchers, even if the supplies were bought with NIH-funded grants. "Recipients may re-budget grant funds to repurchase supplies at a later date," or ask the NIH later for extra funding for replacements, according to the NIH website.

‘Urgency to donate'

University researchers also donated RNA preparation kits, a key component of testing for the coronavirus. These kits also are in short supply, and manufacturers worldwide are ramping up production to meet ever-increasing demands for testing.

Wright said he wasn't sure where his RNA kits ended up, but he knew they'd be a welcome asset. He also said replacement of these kits - or the PPE he donated - hadn't even crossed his mind.

"We'll figure it out when the time comes," Wright said. "The urgency to donate these things was far greater than our need to protect our resources in terms of our research."

In the meantime, Wright's lab is run by a skeleton crew that's been working within the confines of social distancing and limited PPE. "There are a lot of other ways that we can carry on our research that doesn't require significant PPE at this point," Wright said.

Winter said these donations were an easy way to help those on the front lines of the pandemic. "All the credit should go to those scientists who made the tough choice to pause their research in the name of public health and to donate those critical items that would be sitting idle," she said. "We are all in this together."

To help

If you have personal protective equipment you'd like to give to the University of Kansas Health System, email with the quantity and description of items you want to donate. 

If you are a KU Medical Center researcher who would like to donate PPE, contact Michelle Winter.

cart full of PPE   box and gloves on bench  table filled with PPE

Above: A cart of personal protective equipment (PPE) from the labs of researchers Julie Carlsten Christianson, Erin Young and Kyle Baumbauer is bound for donation. Next: Equipment included face masks of varying kinds. Last: A table in Hixson Atrium piles up with PPE donations about halfway through the drive. Contributed photos. 

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