The members of the Institute get involved in the fight against Covid-19


The SARS-Cov-2 coronavirus pandemic is changing our lives and the way we work. At the Institute, this is reflected in the widespread use of teleworking, except for those responsible for completing the experiments in progress and ensuring the maintenance of essential activities. But this also translates into the desire of our researchers and technicians to get involved in the fight against Covid-19.


Our young physician-researchers lend a hand in Saint-Luc

Four PhD students in medical sciences at the Institute were selected in response to the call from the University Hospital Saint-Luc. First approached to assist in the reception of patients admitted for suspected Covid-19 (task which has since been reassigned to young general practitioners), our volunteers are now redirected to understaffed departments, which call upon to those of them with adequate training. Some are thus awaiting assignment while others have, for example, been called by the department where they had already worked during their assistantship.



Our volunteers share their experience:

"We were called in for reinforcement by the oncology day clinic at Hospital Saint-Luc because it was weakened on account of some sick doctors and assistants requisitioned for other tasks.

The atmosphere in the hospital is still quite strange and is psychologically heavier than usual: the corridors are almost empty, the life that usually animates the place has vanished, many patients and some caregivers are anxious, especially because of the lack of means of protection. Although many of us remain calm, the stress of others cannot leave us indifferent.

If there is one word that sums up our difficulties, it is UNCERTAINTY: we do not have the means to systematically screen all our patients, so we do not know who could be carrying the virus, outside of hospitalized and identified patients. So we don't know where to focus our precautionary efforts. We do not know what will happen next week, because if caregivers get sick the organization of the department could change at any time. All of this uncertainty also raises a lot of questions for our cancer patients who need treatment, and whose management programs change as new measures are taken. There is a little bit of anxiety, everything is more complicated. "


Julie Lesenfants, Alix Devaux, Pierre-Florent Petit and Walther Brochier


Eleonore Pairet, paediatrician and PhD student in biomedical and pharmaceutical sciences at the Institute, brings her help to the ONE (Office National de l'Enfance). To make up for the lack of assistants, she is taking over some weekend call duties in paediatrics.


We help the Saint-Luc molecular biology-microbiology laboratory to carry out diagnostic tests

We have listed and made available to the clinical biology laboratories at University Hospital Saint-Luc the reagents and equipment they might need to meet an increased demand for diagnostic tests. At the same time, around sixty of our researchers and technicians volunteered to help carry out these tests. Coordinated by Joseph Dewulf and Jean-Philippe Defour, postdocs at the Institute and members of the department of laboratory medicine at Saint-Luc, this reinforcement has just started.


The first to be called give their testimony:

"The work organization in a clinical laboratory is significantly different from that in a research laboratory. While in research, the same person takes part in all the stages of an experiment, in a clinical lab work is divided into "modules" entrusted to different teams. The Covid-19 screening procedure is thus divided into three modules: the first consists in preparing and inactivating the samples, the second in extracting RNA, and the third in carrying out qPCR and interpretating results. All volunteers are assigned to the second module. The "protocol" aspect is also more advanced than in research, each reagent used has to be numbered and listed. We use a manual protocol without kit because of the lack of reagent. It is slower but just as effective. The kits seem to be reserved for samples from hospitalized patients and these are treated by the clinical laboratory team. Volunteers are responsible for screening hospital staff. Many new samples are expected to arrive very soon, including from staff and retirement homes."



Find out more about the different types of screening tests.

In the table below, Joseph Dewulf, Jean-Philippe Defour and Anaïs Scohy summarize the particularities of the types of tests currently practiced in Belgium while highlighting their advantages and disadvantages.



Anaïs Scohy, Joseph Dewulf, Jean-Philippe Defour

What tests are performed at Saint-Luc?

"At Saint-Luc, the tests in columns 1 and 4 are used for the moment, which make it possible to establish the diagnosis and prognosis. The tests in column 2, which offer a faster diagnosis, are being validated and will begin in the coming days. As for the tests in column 3, which establish whether a person is immune, they will also start soon and will become very important."