Fighting Covid-19 across the globe

Published on 6 July 2021

Our alumni are helping fight Covid-19 and share their stories with us.

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Holly Keir

Holly Keir, Dundee (Biological Sciences, 2016)
“Doing the PhD has really got me to where I am today, I certainly wouldn’t have had any of these opportunities if I hadn’t come to Dundee and I also hadn’t ended up working for James. This is easily the best job I’ve ever had. It is a really fun, supportive team”

Holly Keir, Dundee (Biological Sciences, 2016)

Holly Keir has spent the past year in Dundee working on potential treatments for Covid-19, and earlier this year was named one of the best young scientists in her field. She received the British Thoracic Society’s Early Career Investigator Award at the organisation’s annual Winter Meeting. Holly, based at the University’s School of Medicine, was named the winner of the prestigious prize after delivering a presentation on her research into the severe inflammatory lung condition, bronchiectasis. 

Holly led studies that showed for the first time that an excessive type of immune response called neutrophil extracellular traps (NETs) were present in bronchiectasis and that this is linked to worsening symptoms. She also showed that antibiotic treatment can reduce NET levels in lungs, leading to improved outcomes for patients.  

After graduating in 2016 with a degree in Biological Sciences, Holly worked as a technician before starting a PhD the following year in the laboratory of Professor James Chalmers, one of the UK’s foremost lung experts. 

Holly’s work on NETs was a key factor in setting up ‘STOP-COVID’, a major UK-wide clinical trial of a drug it is hoped may help to prevent the worst ravages of the disease by blocking NETs. She has been co-leading the lab team examining how the drug, Brensocatib, affects the immune system in patients with Covid-19.  

“Showing how the immune system goes wrong is the key to unlocking new treatments, both for chronic lung conditions and perhaps also for Covid-19. It has been intense working on ‘STOP-COVID’ as well as carrying out my PhD work, but it has been an invaluable experience professionally and I am glad to have been able to play some part in the battle against Covid-19.” 

“The science that we do is fascinating and we are making really interesting advances. It’s a real privilege to work on this kind of thing, hopefully making a difference to people.  I work with a fantastic team of researchers and I feel very lucky to be part of this, it’s incredibly interesting and it’s very stimulating to work in this environment.” 

Pon Poh Hsu

Pon Poh Hsu in a suit
“It is beyond words – very fulfilling and rewarding. I feel that I have served a bigger purpose!”

Pon Poh Hsu, Singapore (Medicine, 1993)

When the Covid-19 pandemic hit Singapore, alumnus Pon Poh Hsu saw his role dramatically change from Senior Consultant Surgeon and Professor to Covid-19 warrior. 

Currently, Pon Poh is the Deputy Chairman of the Medical Board of Changi General Hospital (CGH), Singapore and Chairman Designate of the Medical Board of SengKang General Hospital (SKH), Singapore. In 2020, he was appointed as Chairman of the CGH External Operations Taskforce and Chairman for the Covid-19 Manpower Re-Deployment Taskforce, leading the response to Covid-19.

“I remember when the first case landed in Singapore, it was 23rd January 2020. Within a couple of days things were getting much worse than expected.

“At that time, I was appointed as the Chairman of the Manpower Deployment Taskforce, to plan and coordinate the external operations of the hospital in our response to Covid-19. I had to ensure that these plans were executed as smoothly as possible, whist minimising impact on the hospital’s routine operations. I oversaw the organisation of healthcare workers into different teams, to go to different locations and do swabs, testing, blood taking etc. If any patients were positive, we needed to securely transport them to an isolation facility and then look after them.”

It was long days, starting with early morning mission briefings before staff set off to various locations around the island to attend to those in need, ending with debriefs sometimes late into the evenings. 

“We needed to devise and innovate different processes and use technology to make sure that our systems and logistics ran as smoothly as possible whilst ensuring our staff remained safe and in good morale. We were running self-contained medical tentage, akin to field hospitals in war times. There were warfronts on both sides, one within the hospital and the other, outside. We were fighting an enemy that we couldn’t see. You just had to jump in and be flexible, agile and navigate the ambiguity – be courageous and do it with a strong sense of purpose and mission.”  

Pon Poh played an integral part in his country’s response to the virus.

Pon Poh recently received a Singapore Health Quality Service Award - Hero Award (2021) for his contribution throughout the Covid-19 pandemic.  

Earlier this year, he also received a National Day Award (2020) presented by the President of Singapore, for his services throughout his medical career. These are awarded in Singapore to someone who has contributed very significantly to the nation in their field, going beyond their call of duty. Due to the pandemic, the 2020 ceremony was postponed and held in April 2021.

“It truly was a great honour to receive such an award from the President herself, a once in a lifetime experience. I feel very honoured, with big doses of gratitude owed to many - my seniors, mentors, family, friends, colleagues, and our University. I am certain that the well-designed, holistic education that I received from the University of Dundee has played a critical part in shaping my career and my life.”

Sammy Chan

3 people standing in-between two buildings with a banner in front of them
“The timely supply of these quarantine facilities and hospital has greatly assisted Hong Kong in the fight against this pandemic.”

Sammy Chan, Hong Kong (Civil Engineering and Concrete Technology & Construction, 1984 and 1988)

When pressure on Hong Kong’s health care system began to build, Civil Engineering alumnus Sammy Chan and the work of his structural engineering consultancy firm, Wong & Cheng Consulting Engineers Ltd., came into their own.  Quarantine facilities and specialist hospitals were urgently needed in Hong Kong to help with easing the pressure of the pandemic.   

“With my consultancy firm’s experience in Modular Integrated Construction (MiC), we were commissioned to work with China State Construction Co. Ltd and other consultants to design and build quarantine facilities at a number of sites in Hong Kong, setting up a total of 1500 wards. The whole process of fast-track design, statutory approval, factory prefabrication and fitting out, transportation, and on-site completion for each site generally took about one month,” explained Sammy.  

“With the hospitals in Hong Kong continuing to be overwhelmed by Covid-19 patients, the Central Government decided to build a hospital specifically to treat patients with respiratory diseases.   

We were again engaged by China State Construction Co. Ltd., to provide structural engineering design services for a hospital complex which was to provide 816 patient beds in negative pressure wards. By using the MiC method, the entire process was completed within four months. Normally a major hospital of this scale would take four to five years to complete in Hong Kong.”  

A series of innovative technical methodologies used, including MiC, helped to achieve the very ambitious timescales set.     

“MiC technology has been gaining traction with the construction industry in Hong Kong. MiC calls for the Building Information Modelling (BIM) 3D design for prefabricated elements instead of the traditional 2D.”  

The North Lantau Hospital Infection Control Centre in Hong Kong is the world’s first all-MiC Negative Pressure Isolation Hospital. It was completed in January 2021 and covers an area of around 30,000 square metres. The process took a record 10% of the usual timescale of hospitals of similar complexity to perform its urgently needed functions.   

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