Research Stories

Heroes behind the scenes: the MUHC Microbiology Lab

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we have been hearing many stories of physicians administering life saving treatment or nurses caring for patients in the ICU. The stories we seldom hear are those of the people working to address this health crisis behind the scenes. At the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC), laboratory techs are among the unsung heroes of this pandemic, providing results for hundreds of COVID-19 tests daily.

Since March, the MUHC Microbiology Lab has processed tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests. The lab is a member of the Quebec government’s new Optilab program, which has set up 11 high-volume laboratories across the province to increase efficiency while decreasing costs. Open 24/7, the lab’s technologists and clerks work around the clock to provide test results not only for the hospital, but for clinics around the region.

The process of going from a sample to a positive or negative test result takes about 24 hours. The laboratory staff of over 60 follows strict procedures to ensure they are never at risk.

Lab Technicians in the laboratory

Since March, the MUHC Microbiology Lab has processed tens of thousands of COVID-19 tests.

“When we prepare samples, we follow many safety measures,” says Toula Nickolaou, Manager of Microbiology. “Our technologists wear gowns, face shields, masks and two pairs of gloves.” 

The lab techs must open the sample tubes to prepare them for analysis. To do this safely, they work under a biosafety cabinet (similar to a fume hood) to ensure no aerosol particles escape. In addition, a perimeter is formed to ensure the air around the tech is not disturbed, which could send tiny droplets of the sample into the lab.

To do this safely, they work under a biosafety cabinet (similar to a fume hood) to ensure no aerosol particles escape.

To do this safely, they work under a biosafety cabinet (similar to a fume hood) to ensure no aerosol particles escape.

“In my 36 years working in hospital clinical laboratories, including working with SARS and H1N1, we have always tried to make sure the technologists are in a safe working environment,” says Nickolaou. “We are trained to treat all samples as potentially infectious, and that keeps us safe.”

With such critical work to be done, the staff at the MUHC Microbiology Lab have gone above and beyond, working overtime when needed, staying late to bring the next shift up-to-speed and voluntarily deferring vacation to ensure the lab is never short staffed.

With such critical work to be done, the staff at the MUHC Microbiology Lab have gone above and beyond, working overtime when needed, staying late to bring the next shift up-to-speed and voluntarily deferring vacation to ensure the lab is never short staffed.

 “Our team has been just amazing,” Nickolaou says. “I am so grateful for their dedication.”

Would you like to support the MUHC Foundation’s mission to help change the course of lives and medicine, including joining our fight against COVID-19? Donate now!

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