COVID-19 is a disease that attacks multiple systems in the body, according to the research team at Atlantic Health System.

The health system currently has nine clinical trials open to try and formulate an understanding of the coronavirus that those researchers characterize as "mandatory."

The health system's COVID Research Program started almost "overnight," according to Dr. Angela Alistar, director of both GI Medical Oncology at Morristown Medical Center, which is an Atlantic Health facility, and the Breakthrough Treatment Center. She said the program is complex, covering a "broad spectrum of investigation" involving New Jerseyans from asymptomatic COVID patients to those who need to be put on ventilators in the hospital.

Alistar stressed that this is still a new virus about which much remains unknown.

"The virus seems to be crossing across specialties, across syndromes, across different populations, and right here in New Jersey," she said. "Initially everyone was looking for a treatment that can help with the symptoms and with the mortality of patients, and now three months later, we're looking at better understanding this virus ... The future for this virus is still elusive and hard to predict, and we're planning to be ready for any possibility."

One component of the research program is a study by Massachusetts-based TScan Therapeutics that hopes to identify, through the blood markers known as T cells, how the immune system uniquely responds to COVID-19. Recovered COVID patients who volunteer for this study would have a one-time blood sample taken to have their T cells analyzed.

"The patients that have recovered from the virus can hold the key to our understanding of why some patients have performed well," Alistar said.

She also said the T cell data can provide clues as to why other patients, unfortunately, have not performed well.

Other studies in the program are being offered to patients still hospitalized with the virus, to gather information about how their time on ventilators can be reduced, or hopefully, eliminated entirely.

Any New Jerseyan with COVID-19 and no symptoms or mild symptoms, or who has recovered, is urged to call 973-886-7801 to learn more about the COVID Research Program's clinical trial options.

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