How one research assistant is helping during the pandemic

For future medical student Jacintha Thomas, COVID-19 has presented a challenging, but unique, situation. 

Jacintha Thomas is currently the sole research assistant in the ophthalmology and biochemistry labs. She’s also a screener at UI Hospitals & Clinics for about four hours every day. Since she uses a microscope, and it’s just her in the work area, she typically doesn’t wear a face shield in the lab.

Before the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, the research assistant split her time between two different labs: ophthalmology and biochemistry. 

“I would spend my mornings in ophthalmology conducting tests, electroretinograms, and OCT imaging,” says Thomas. “In the afternoons, I would head over to the biochem lab where we’re studying muscular dystrophy.”

Like so many others, COVID-19 has upended Thomas’ everyday schedule and forced her to adapt to new situations.

 “I think we all just have to continue doing all we can to help the situation,” says Thomas.

A united front

Today she’s the sole research assistant in both labs and a screener at UI Hospitals & Clinics for about four hours every day.

In addition to compiling data and creating figures for future manuscripts and papers in the labs, she’s trying to ensure nothing important is lost.

Each lab conducts experiments of various treatments, which have to be monitored from month to month. The halting of these vital experiments would not only be expensive, but would also stop the progress of promising treatments that may one day be used on human patients. 

“In ophthalmology, we’re testing gene therapy treatments for two different pediatric progressive blindness disorders,” says Thomas. “In the biochem lab, we’re using four fly stocks—each with a different mutation—to try and figure out if there’s a way to slow muscle degeneration in human patients.”

Helping in other ways

While the coronavirus pandemic has interrupted the lives of millions around the globe, it’s also presented a unique opportunity for Thomas. 

In addition to her responsibilities in the lab, Thomas now volunteers as a screener to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

“I’m starting medical school in the fall and infectious disease has always been at the top of my interest list,” she says. “In the midst of a pandemic that I never thought I’d see in my time, I volunteered as a screener because I thought it would be fascinating and beneficial for me to help out in any way that I could.”

Thomas also is proud of the way that people across University of Iowa Health Care have adapted and adjusted to whatever the current situation demands of them. 

“As the saying goes, we’re all in this together,” says Thomas. “When I started screening, I began to see all the different staff members who have been displaced by the coronavirus. But regardless, we all ultimately want to help stop the spread. It put a bit of hope in my mind to realize that there are so many people helping others.” 

Do you know someone who should be honored as a health care hero? Here is how you can nominate a UI Health Care employee.




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