Jo-ann Tonon, ASCP SBB
Acting Senior Manager, Transfusion Medicine and Cell Therapy Laboratory
Center for Laboratory Medicine
Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

The COVID19 pandemic has created many challenges for Cell Therapy Processing laboratories. Some of our challenges have included:

Staffing: absences, commuting difficulties, how to achieve some level of social distancing in the laboratory that is still operating during the pandemic. Our institution has provided reimbursement for travel, which has helped us to have our staff onsite. We divided the staff into 2 designated teams, working longer shifts but less days onsite with opposite schedules to reduce the incidence exposure. This also gave us the opportunity to assign and coordinate continuing education activities while off site by enabling remote connectivity.

Restrictions and delays on the collection and  receipt of unrelated donor product through the NMDP: The NMDP request to cryopreserve all products added additional workload to staffing. Fortunately, our lab routinely freezes allogeneic products using a well validated procedure, so the impact was minimal.  

Supply issues: Cryo bags and  Proper Protective Equipment.  As part of our  institution’s emergency response team, designated supply chain resources were able to contact  manufacturers directly to obtain supplies and to follow up on back orders, relieving the laboratory staff of that duty. By reexamining our procedures to avoid waste while maintaining safe practices, we were able to conserve mask and lab coat supplies

Facility restrictions: Restriction on vendors on site and the  receipt of deliveries from NMDP, was a challenge. Each vendor had their own restrictions (travel restrictions, questionnaire requirements) as well as the institutional requirements. International NMDP couriers were restricted full access, so that lab staff had to perform the hand off outside the confines of the laboratory. Staff worked with manufacturers via WebEx and Zoom to perform Preventative Maintenance activities that were due.

Protocol activity: Restrictions on qualification audits, delay of Site Initiation Visits  brought most of the research to a temporary halt.  Restriction on travel for training caused a delay in proceeding with certain research protocols. Preparing the necessary items that we can, so that we are ready to go when restrictions are lifted, will help to cut down on the overall delay of the protocols.

Training: Suspension of training activities (staffing levels, social distancing) Training activity was halted, which delayed completion of training.