April 2020 COVID-19 update from Interim Director Denis Guttridge, Ph.D.

April 15, 2020
Denis Guttridge, Ph.D.
Denis Guttridge, Ph.D.

Dear friends of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center:

My name is Denis Guttridge, and as some of you may know, I was asked to fill the role of director of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center on an interim basis, which I accepted due to my personal involvement in the cancer center and my genuine commitment to see its success. Even in my interim role, I promise to actively make Hollings Cancer Center the best it can be in transformative research and clinical care.

I'd like to provide you with an update on the COVID-19 outbreak in regard to both the cancer center and the Medical University of South Carolina. But first, I hope you find some comfort in knowing that during this stressful time, all of us at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center are keeping you in our thoughts, and are always here to help.

While COVID-19 continues to be a moving target, the cancer center is still open for patient care with modified operations. We have the immense responsibility of mitigating the spread of this infection while continuing to provide access to the very best oncology care, and we are all working diligently to minimize the impact of this disease.

On the research side, we have responded to the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) immediate call for COVID-19 related projects. Working with labs at MUSC, we have proposed performing a clinical trial with an FDA-approved drug for COVID-19 patients at high risk of acute respiratory distress. We learned NCI has agreed to review our proposal and hope to receive funding so we may provide the best care for COVID-19 patients in our Charleston community and worldwide. Hollings has also donated to MUSC our robotic workstation from our Genomics Core, which will allow genomic testing to expand from hundreds to thousands of people per day.

I would also like to share a few important pieces of MUSC Health’s COVID-19 preparedness plan with you. As of April 2, MUSC has screened some 23,000 patients through virtual care, and has collected tissue specimens for genomic screening from almost 600 people daily at its drive-through collection sites in West Ashley, Florence, and Lancaster. I was very impressed to learn that MUSC Health was the first health care organization on the East Coast to open a drive-through specimen collection site in tandem with its online virtual care platform. We encourage you to visit muschealth.org/coronavirus for detailed and consistently updated information related to the virus. This commentary from MUSC President Dr. David Cole titled, “After the wave: Life after the inevitable COVID-19 surge,” also offers some helpful insight into the impact of our current actions, as well as the long-term implications of this pandemic.

You, and each of our wonderful donors, have already done so much for our cancer center. That is why I am truly humbled when I hear people asking how they can help during the outbreak. First and foremost, please take care of yourself and your loved ones. Stay at home, keep in touch with friends online or by phone instead of in-person, and wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, especially after touching objects outside. This too will pass – let’s all live through it by being careful.

If you have the capacity and desire to give back to our medical community during this time, you can visit giving.musc.edu to donate to the newly established COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. Gifts to this fund will go to our highest priority needs caused by COVID-19, which includes: additional remote screening sites; surgical masks, gowns, and other medical supplies; helping our health care providers with child care, elder care, or other unforeseen expenses; research to support the discovery and development of new treatments; and helping our students offset additional debt. Every donation is greatly appreciated.

I would also like to bring your attention to a specific research project that’s directly related to helping our health care providers. Hollings Cancer Center and the MUSC College of Medicine are working together to purchase serological test kits. These kits allow the detection of antibodies that the body produces against the virus. The kits function like a pregnancy test in providing a YES or NO answer in a matter of minutes. If a health care provider tests positive for the COVID-19 antibody, it means they have produced an immunity against the virus and can no longer be infected or harmed. For our hospital that’s highly informative because it means our health care staff can work on the frontlines without fear of spreading COVID-19 to their colleagues or our patients. Support for this project to help purchase the kits can be donated through connect2.musc.edu/com, College of Medicine COVID-19 Research.

I cannot begin to thank you enough for your ongoing, incredible support of the MUSC Hollings Cancer Center. It’s because of you that we are able to fulfill our mission of reducing the cancer burden in South Carolina through the highest quality patient care, research, professional education, and cancer control programs. We are looking forward to getting back to business as usual and thanking you in person!

Sincerely yours,

Denis C. Guttridge, Ph.D.
Interim Director
MUSC Hollings Cancer Center