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Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Frontline

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The Physiological Society and the Intensive Care Society have come together to host an exciting three-day virtual conference this week, which will review the challenges of understanding the pathophysiological changes occurring throughout the body following COVID-19 infection.

The conference will share current knowledge and thinking across many physiological systems, showcase the symbiotic relationship between physiology and critical care, and help set the agenda for research to identify future treatments and therapies.

Just one year ago, no one could have predicted that the world would be experiencing one of the largest pandemics in history, yet we near the end of 2020, with nearly 70 million cases and over 1.5 million deaths caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). 

This virus spreads rapidly through the population with consequences for all ages, and especially for those with underlying conditions, such as Type II diabetes. 

In the body, there are far-reaching effects beyond the respiratory system, with neurological, cardiovascular, and renal damage prominent amongst the symptoms.

It became clear from an early stage that an understanding of the pathophysiology underlying organ system damage was critical to driving appropriate clinical intervention as dogma from previous pandemics was dismissed in many situations.  

This conference, just one year on from the early cases reported in Wuhan, brings together the multi-professional intensive care community with physiologists and clinicians, who have been working symbiotically, to consider what lessons have been learned from the frontline of treatment and scientific discovery in controlling this pandemic. 

It is unique in enabling the voices from physiology and intensive care to come together in discussing the challenges of identifying future therapies, the importance of rehabilitation and what questions remain unanswered.  

Each session is focussed on one organ system, with specialist talks leading into an extended discussion from expert panel members. It is critical to consider manifestations during the various stages of infection, with an emphasis on the mechanisms underlying each of these.

Using clinical cases to illustrate and the methodological approaches such as imaging to inform on the extent of damage to the different organs, it is then possible to reflect on current treatments, those that have been discarded and those that show promise.

This conference is therefore of topical interest to the all intensive care professionals, physiologists, clinicians, and healthcare practitioners at all stages of their career to understand how we move forward in our understanding of diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation of patients affected by such pandemics.

Professor Mike Tipton, University of Portsmouth, UK: ‘This fascinating meeting reflects to the close collaboration between physiologists and clinicians that was established to understand and battle the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath. It should of great interest to both the scientific and health care communities.’

The Physiological Society’s Chair of Conferences Committee Professor Sue Deuchars, University of Leeds, UK: ‘This is a pertinent time, as we reach the peak of the second wave of the pandemic and the advent of the first vaccine, to consider what we have learnt from the numerous research papers, clinical case studies and unique discussions between physiologists and clinicians. The consideration of the many aspects of damage to different organ systems is critical to moving forward with treatment and rehabilitation.’

Intensive Care Society’s President, Dr Stephen Webb said: ‘Absolutely delighted to be collaborating with The Physiological Society to bring together both sides to understand the lessons learnt from the first wave. Physiologists have played an integral part in managing COVID- 19 and this truly showcases how important it is that we can reflect together to understand how to better care for our patients in the future.’

Intensive Care Society’s Conference Director and Intensive Care Consultant, Dr Steve Mathieu said: ‘I’m really excited that the Intensive Care Society is collaborating with The Physiological Society. We are bringing experts in physiology together with health care professionals, scientists and researchers to help share knowledge and lessons learned about Covid. This will help us to improve our understanding of pathophysiology and how this can then be used to directly benefit our critically ill patients at the bedside.’

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