COVID-19 Update: A Message from the Berrie Center Co-Directors

The Berrie Center, along with the rest of the biomedical community at Columbia and around the world, remains in an unprecedented situation. For understandable reasons, we have been obliged to cease on-site ambulatory care, as well as basic and translational research. Berrie personnel at all levels, numbering over 100 individuals, have risen to the challenge as you would have anticipated: with unselfish courage, resourcefulness, commitment and resolve. We are using electronic communication and teleconferencing to sustain critical activities and keep Berrie Center personnel in close communication.

Specific responses have included:

Clinical programs
All outpatient visits have been converted to virtual video-visits, an enormous undertaking. We are operating with the fewest possible on-site faculty and staff, utilizing a rotating team system with most faculty and staff working full-time from home. Our purpose is to keep our patients with diabetes out of in-person contact with the healthcare system. All prescriptions for medications and supplies are filled in a timely fashion, and all calls from patients are answered promptly.

This strategy has been working. We have not seen an increase in diabetic ketoacidosis (DKA), a dangerous complication of type 1 diabetes, as is now being reported in other diabetes practices around the country. Patients at those practices report fear of going to the hospital coupled with an inability to reach the endocrinologist’s office.

Our inpatient consultation service has been greatly expanded and also converted to a virtual visit system in order to handle the large number of patients with metabolic complications of COVID-19, including severe DKA in patients with type 2 diabetes. We are piloting the use of continuous glucose monitoring with DexCom 6 in hospitalized patients.

These new telemedicine and glucose sensing programs, initiated in this emergency, have been very successful in meeting our patients’ needs and will likely be continued when emergency wanes.

Research programs
We have ceased all new research except for work potentially related to SARS-Cov-2 biology or clinical mitigation. Ongoing research projects have been severely curtailed. Most students have been sent home, and our research fellows and faculty organized into small cohorts who can maintain very limited lab activities, monitor animals and cell cultures.

In support of COVID-19 efforts, some research physicians have now volunteered to deliver medical care and other scientists have volunteered to assist in activities directly related the COVID-19 programs in the medical center.

Obesity, along with diabetes, are among the highest risk factors for adverse outcomes in COVID-19 infection. Berrie Center and Columbia scientists are ideally situated to elucidate the mechanisms of this relationship because we are both at the epicenter of the pandemic and in research in this area. Our work will contribute to understanding this relationship and ultimately lead to novel treatments for COVID-19.

We need your help now to keep the Berrie center in its preeminent position as a leader in diabetes care and research. On the clinical side, we need funds to continue and expand our pilot telehealth and glucose sensing programs. On the research side, we need funds to focus our research efforts on the dire consequences between obesity, diabetes and COVID-19. We are developing a list of funding priorities which we will share shortly.

There are glimmers of hope that the peak of the pandemic may have been reached in NYC but much work remains to be done. With your help, the Berrie Center will emerge stronger from this emergency.

Robin and Rudy