Advance Queensland Fellowship aimed at helping COVID critical care

There are limited drug treatments for COVID-19 patients. And if those patients get critically ill and end up in the intensive care unit, doctors and nurses are faced with very difficult decisions.

But what if doctors and nurses were armed with better decision-making tools? Tools that were backed by cutting-edge statistical analysis that could allow them to make the right call. Or at least, a much more informed call.


Dr Nicole White

That’s the aim of new research being undertaken by Dr. Nicole White, a statistician with QUT’s School of Public Health and an Associate Investigator with ACEMS.

The Queensland Government just awarded Nicole an Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowship to use statistics to help critically ill COVID-19 patients.

“My aim is to develop statistical models that describe the clinical course and treatment of COVID-19 patients from the time they are admitted to the ICU,” says Nicole.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, one in ten patients hospitalised with the virus require critical care.

“For example, we know some COVID-19 patients in the ICU experience acute respiratory failure,” says Nicole.

Right now, those patients are often treated by being put on a mechanical ventilator, or Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO).

“ECMO is an advanced life support system that does save lives. However, doctors are still learning how best to use it during COVID-19 and given the relatively small number of patients it makes sense to analyse combined data from multiple countries,” says Nicole.

The statistical modelling will use patient-level information collected during a patient’s ICU stay to help inform medical staff identify which treatments are likely to be most effective for different patients. As part of modelling, Nicole is also interested in identifying subgroups of patients associated with different risks of COVID-19 induced acute respiratory failure.

“This information will help us to identify important factors associated with the commencement and effectiveness of a treatment or treatments in addition to patient survival,” says Nicole.

Nicole’s research will use data from the COVID-19 Critical Care Consortium’s international study of COVID-19 ICU admissions, which includes almost 400 hospitals and research facilities across 53 countries. QUT Professor Adrian Barnett, an Associate Investigator with ACEMS, is a Chief Investigator with the study and will work with Nicole on this project.

“It’s challenging to work in such a new space with the data changing daily, but it’s also incredibly rewarding to be part of the global effort to fight COVID-19,” says Adrian.

In the end, the research outcomes could be integrated into clinical practice, and provide clinicians access to relevant intelligence needed to support clinical decision making. The data will also be used to prepare for any more waves of the pandemic.

“It will contribute to future planning for any sustained pandemic responses or other circumstances that might overwhelm ICU capacity,” says Nicole.

The 2020 Advance Queensland Industry Research Fellowships were re-purposed to focus on research that could help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

ACEMS Communications: Tim Macuga, 07 3138 6741,