VCU Wright Center informatics team fights COVID-19 with data

Registered nurse Rachel Pryor had collected 2,000 COVID-19 antibody tests and 2,000 surveys. And she needed to know, in the early weeks of the pandemic, what they said about the risk of the novel coronavirus for health care providers.

“The prevalence of antibodies in providers was one way for the health care system, and the community in general, to better understand the prevalence of COVID-19,” said Pryor, a data analyst and research coordinator in the Infection Prevention Department at VCU Health. “And it was important to understand if we were protecting our health care workers.”

Logistically, though, the number of tests and surveys was daunting. Data needed to be confidential, but linked to surveys that conveyed meaningful information about the person. So like researchers before her, Pryor turned for help to the informatics team at Virginia Commonwealth University, housed in the C. Kenneth and Dianne Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research.

Informatics has long been the silent backbone of health research at VCU. Data experts who help faculty find what they need in notes and numbers work through 250 to 300 requests for support in a typical year.

But the pandemic kicked their role into high gear. In addition to their regular load, they worked on nearly 50 pandemic-related projects last year, adapting quickly to the needs of health researchers.

The team was behind the scenes of many of VCU’s most notable COVID-19 research projects. They made a confidential registry of people who recovered from the virus and were willing to donate their plasma. They helped researchers quantify the alarming surge of opioid overdoses that doctors were seeing. They surveyed people who noticed changes in their ability to taste and smell. And they helped researchers manage the vast amounts of data accrued in their scientific inquiries.

“When investigators are faced with data capture and management challenges — large or small — they come to the Wright Center informatics team, because we have the infrastructure and expertise to scale quickly,” said Tim Aro, the Wright Center’s manager of clinical research informatics.

Continue reading

The Wright Center for Clinical and Translational Research informatics team: top row, left to right, Michael Tran, Tim Aro, Travis Oakes, Amy Olex; second row, left to right, Rebecca Tucker, Shree Sagiraju, Chris Porter, Patrick Shi; third row, left to right, Bill Cramer, Brian Bush, Evan French, Peter Burdette; bottom row, left to right, Jim Vencl and Tamas Gal, Ph.D., the director of research informatics.

  • bioinformatics
  • informatics
  • informatics infrastructure

Publishing CTSA Program Hub’s Name
Virginia Commonwealth University

CTSA Program In Action Goals
Goal 5: Advance the Use of Cutting-Edge Informatics