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

May 11, 2020
Denis Guttridge, Ph.D.

Dear friends of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center:

I hope this letter finds you and your loved ones safe and healthy during these very unusual times. As we struggle with the many challenges that this pandemic brings, I want to reassure you that we remain committed to our cause of advancing cancer care in South Carolina.

I wanted to share with you some information that speaks to the efforts we strive to make every day to provide the best care and research for our patients. On the clinical side, I welcome you to listen to this interview of Dr. David Mahvi,chief of the Oncology Integrated Center of Clinical Excellence at Hollings Cancer Center at the Medical University of South Carolina. Dr. Mahvi recently spoke with Bobbi Conner from our public radio station in Charleston regarding cancer treatment at Hollings during the pandemic, and the work we are doing to minimize the impact of COVID-19 on our patients.

Regarding COVID-19 testing, like many medical centers across the country, it has taken us some time to ramp up our abilities to test our patients and providers. I am truly humbled when I see the progress that has been made at MUSC and how Hollings has contributed to these efforts. Only a few weeks ago, a university campaign was launched to gather funds to an emergency COVID initiative. Many of you donated willingly and energized our ability to purchase 5,000 kits to test providers and frontline health care workers and first responders for COVID-19 antibodies. Although the data are not yet conclusive, scientists believe testing positive for the COVID-19 antibody will provide immunity against further infection. Similar kits are now being used for in-home testing of our patients, and we also are broadening antibody testing for care team members and first responders in our Florence and Lancaster divisions. Furthermore, to accelerate these efforts, funds from the emergency COVID initiative are being used to develop an in-house antibody test spearheaded by several Hollings clinicians and scientists. This will provide us the flexibility and speed to test more patients, caregivers, and first responders, which will ultimately lead to maintaining a flattening of the curve.

As scary as this pandemic has been, it has forced us to all to gain new knowledge, and I for one have sharpened my skills in immunology. As a cancer center, having immunology expertise is crucial to not only fighting COVID-19, but also to translating that expertise to the latest groundbreaking discoveries in cancer care and immune therapy. This is why I am so pleased to announce our latest recruitment of Sophie Paczesny, M.D., Ph.D., who is an expert in bone marrow transplantation and the new chair of the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at MUSC. Within Hollings, Dr. Paczesny will serve as co-leader of our Cancer Immunology research program with Dr. Shikhar Mehrotra, one of the lead scientists developing MUSC’s in-house COVID-19 antibody test. I invite you to read their story. Our commitment to recruiting new hires and retaining talented faculty in our oncology program remains central to our Hollings mission.

Yes, scary times, but I remain optimistic that together we will keep making significant positive differences in how we research and treat cancer. Please know that all of us at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center are keeping you in our thoughts. It is a pleasure serving as the interim director of Hollings Cancer Center and know that my door is always open to anyone who has questions or concerns.

With gratitude,


Denis Guttridge, Ph.D.

Hollings Cancer Center Interim Director