Chromatography in the time of COVID-19

June 4, 2020

The Column

The Column, The Column-06-04-2020, Volume 16, Issue 6
Pages: 13–15

Incognito offers some tips for chromatographers during the current crisis

Incognito offers some tips for chromatographers during the current crisis

As I write, many of us are in lockdown status, due to the global SARS COVID-2 pandemic which has affected large parts of Asia, Europe and the Americas. It is fair to say that this is an unprecedented situation and one which threatens human health and global economic stability; therefore, I feel compelled to address the issues facing the analytical chemistry community during this very worrying time. I hope that one day we will all look back at this period and reflect that we came through the crisis stronger than we entered it and that we can take some key learnings from the situation, using them to our advantage in the future.

Some of us, who work within businesses deemed as “essential”, will continue working during this time, including those in hospital and healthcare laboratories, clinical laboratories, laboratories serving the pharmaceutical supply chain, essential utilities, and those working in the supply chain for these laboratories. I salute you all for your dedication to the health and wellbeing of us all, and firmly hope that you remain healthy until the situation resolves, and we get the virus under control, whatever form this might take. Your “essential worker” status underlines the importance of analytical science in the modern world and we should not underestimate the role of separation sciences in helping to develop new tests for those who currently have or have had the virus, and medicines which will either control the symptoms of the virus, or which vaccinate us from it. I wish you great scientific success in these endeavours.

By now, anyone still in the laboratory should be experienced in the new ways of working that have so quickly been developed and implemented, including social distancing, optimizing personal hygiene, not mixing in large groups during break or lunch periods and improved cleansing procedures of laboratory equipment and infrastructure. Any of you who are able to work from home will be doing so, and in larger organizations, you may be working in rota systems in order to reduce the amount of personnel in the laboratory at any one time. There are also some novel approaches emerging, such as splitting workforces so that all sample data acquisition is controlled by a low number of personnel attending site, while data analysis, reporting writing, etc. is done remotely by taking advantage of networked chromatography data systems, Virtual Private Networking, and other means of remote digital access.

Having various subject matter experts working remotely or on an opposing roster can always be a challenging time. Simply put, you may not have direct access to the type of advice or hands-on assistance that you are used to, but precious samples still need to be analysed. Obviously one can seek remote assistance from subject matter experts or instrument champions within your business, but this may take longer than usual. I think the vendor community can help here by increasing the amount of technical support that they offer their customers, for both instrument- and application-related issues. I urge vendors to make it as easy as possible to access the very best knowledge and experience within your company, to ensure your end-users are fully supported in all of their laboratory endeavours. If you have online resources which are not usually available to anyone but your own customers, then please consider making all of these available. Of course, suppliers of columns and consumables could also be providing this increased support.

Again, to everyone involved in the laboratory supply chain, you need to strive to hold the correct amount of stock so that the critical work of laboratories is not held up. Of course, I appreciate that you also need to protect your own staff, that your suppliers may also be having issues and that, for smaller suppliers, you may be facing financial constraints. However, for those who step up to the plate at this critical time, I am sure your efforts will not be forgotten by your customers in the long term.

 

Of course, there will be others of you who are currently furloughed and are not able to attend the laboratory. I sincerely hope that this is a short-term measure for anyone in this situation.

Whatever your working situation, if you find yourself with a little more time on your hands, there are several options for keeping yourself “match-fit” for when you return to the laboratory. In fact, your goal should be to return as the new, improved version of yourself.

There are many resources for undertaking online training in chromatography techniques, including several which are free, and I’d recommend you visit LCGC’s CHROMacademy to explore the free learning modules, webcasts and guides (www.chromacademy.com), as well as the host of other resources from independent companies, instrument vendors and consumables suppliers which are also available. Furthermore, during this time your employer may be willing to support you undertaking some paid online learning, in order to make best use of your time. You may want to consider courses in the theory of chromatography, the underlying principles of the specific chromatography techniques and instrumentation which you use, or more general courses on troubleshooting or method development.

You might also want to catch up on the academic literature and all of those key papers which, again, you probably didn’t get time to read when the laboratory was in full swing. Further, there are older but seminal papers which can also serve as good learning. There are too many to mention in list form here, but just in case it helps, Table 1 includes a few “hot” papers from my own literature library which I’ll be catching up on or re-reading, just to make sure I’m as sharp as possible going into the post-COVID era.

A further thought for the major academic publishing houses; how about making journal access free for a limited period – so that everyone, whatever their current work status, may benefit and ensure that these worst of times are made just a little more productive through your altruism?

Of course, many of you will have had to leave your laboratory or instrumentation in a way that was sub-optimal in terms of medium term shut-down. It is only right, at this point, to highlight that we will come back from the present position and return to our important work supporting both internal and external clients and we need to look forward to this time. I am sure that the instrument vendors, publishers, and supply chain companies will be delivering a host of information on how best to get the laboratory back up and running again. In the meantime, of course, you can be searching for information which is already out there, and be one step ahead of the game when the lockdowns are lifted. From an economic perspective, I am sure each and every business will want to begin revenue generation as soon as is possible!

So, if you are working, stay safe and productive, and I applaud your efforts. If you are away from your laboratory, please also stay safe and productive. It’s important to realize the opportunity that this disruption has afforded us all and to make the very best of a bad situation. I hope to be talking to you next time from a post‑COVID-19 world.

Contact author: Incognito

E-mail the Editor: kjones@ mjhlifesciences.com

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