Back to Top Skip to main content

Searching for clues under the microscope to understand COVID-19

Researcher places a drop of fluid to slide that is under a microscope Pathologists at the Joint Pathology Center are searching for clues to understand how COVID-19 is harming patients. (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sgt. Matthew J. Wisher)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Pathologists at the Joint Pathology Center meticulously piece together clues to help health care providers better understand COVID-19. By studying tissue samples under the microscope, patterns emerge of the damage that the respiratory virus leaves in the human body, said Army Col. (Dr.) Joel Moncur, director of the JPC. The center consults with medical facilities in New York City on adult and pediatric cases of COVID-19 to help further unravel the mysterious effects of the disease.

Nestled within the Defense Health Agency, the JPC serves as the reference pathology lab for the entire Military Health System, the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, and the federal government on the most challenging cases, according to Moncur. By serving as a centralized review site, the pathologists at JPC compare findings across multiple patients and compile data in order to track disease trends that may affect the fighting force, he added.

With 19 subspecialties, JPC’s pathologists provide expertise in all the major organs of the body, including the lungs. “By looking through a microscope at tissues, we can learn if a disease is related to inflammation or if it’s cancerous and, if it is cancer, if it is slow growing or highly aggressive,” explained Moncur.

COVID-19, a type of coronavirus, ravages the human body in new and unprecedented ways—from causing blood clots and lung damage to creating dangerous immune responses in adults and children, according to Moncur. “Pathology has an enormous amount to contribute because if we can understand the disease, then it’s possible to suggest logical treatments and potential methods of prevention,” he said.

JPC’s long history provides many examples of pathologists playing a key role in changing the way the medical and scientific communities view disease. “In fact, many of the pathologists at the JPC have made discoveries that are now part of the official classifications of diseases as a result of their thoughtful observations,” he said, adding that an average of 70% of medical decisions for any patient result from laboratory testing and analysis.

Like detectives, pathologists search for evidence within tissue samples, but those at JPC also use the lab’s rich historical data to help tell the story of a disease or outbreak. The center maintains the world’s largest collection of preserved human tissue samples, going back to 1917, said Moncur. An official audit in 2006 found over 55 million glass slides and at least 35 million tissue block samples. These samples span every major epidemic and pandemic in the past century, including the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. In fact, according to Moncur, in 1997 a scientist using tissue from the JPC repository published research stating that a novel H1N1 influenza virus served as the source of the so-called Spanish flu, which killed over 50 million people, and that a bacterial pneumonia acted as a common secondary cause of death. “It was really significant information because it changed the face of public health from that point forward,” he added, noting public health scientists have used information from that research to help prevent future outbreaks.

Working in collaboration with civilian medical facilities in New York City, JPC pathologists scour for clues to understand COVID-19. JPC pathologists also work with researchers at the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease, the Uniformed Services University of Health Sciences, and the National Institutes of Health to analyze and study how COVID-19 causes damage within the body.

The JPC is part of the DHA's National Capital Region Market. Markets are groups of military treatment facilities in specific regions of the United States that operate as a system, sharing patients, staff, administrative functions and budgets across facilities to improve coordination in the delivery of military health care.

“By examining the tissues, we hope to understand how COVID-19 is harming patients and understand the second and third order of effects of that infection, just like with the 1918 flu,” said Moncur. “That information can point to possible treatments that could be investigated.”

You also may be interested in...

Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine at Civilian Pharmacies

Publication
3/9/2021

YOU CAN GET THE COVID-19 VACCINE FROM ANY CIVILIAN PHARMACY AT NO CHARGE, EVEN NON-NETWORK PHARMACIES, BUT HERE ARE SOME THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Access to COVID-19 Vaccine for Members of the Selected Reserve (SELRES)

Publication
3/2/2021

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | Coronavirus

Printable VAX Fact Should Children Get the COVID Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Will TRICARE Cover the COVID Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Getting COVID and Flu Vaccine at Once

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Can I Get COVID-19 From the Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact How Many Doses of the Vaccine Will I Get?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Who Can Get the Vaccine Now?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact How Much will the COVID-19 Vaccine Cost?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact When can I get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Where can I get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Do I Have to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Printable VAX Fact Do I Still Need to Wear a Facemask After I'm Vaccinated?

Publication
2/12/2021

This is a printable version of the VAX Fact graphic

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit

Publication
1/5/2021

This toolkit provides communicators across the Military Health System (MHS) with important information about the COVID-19 prevention and vaccination from the CDC to share with patients and health care professionals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Information for Military Treatment Facility Directors | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts | COVID-19 Toolkit

COVID-19 Social Media Toolkit

Publication
1/5/2021

These messages are provided for you to use on your platforms with any of the images from the COVID-19 Toolkit.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus
<< < 1 2 3 > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 3

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.