January's Nurse of the Month: Nicole Marten (she/her), RN, Research Team Manager Critical Care, Hematology & COVID clinical trials

Pre-pandemic, Nicole Marten, a Research Nurse was part of a team that consisted of herself, one other research nurse, and a project manager. Her role included duties such as recruiting patients, talking to families, obtaining informed consent, and ensuring that study procedures and follow up visits were completed.

At that time, she was also managing an international multi-site investigator-initiated trial alongside Dr Ryan Zarychanski, a Hematologist, Intensivist and clinician scientist.

Post-pandemic, the job, the team, and the projects have grown exponentially, leading investigator-initiated, grant funded, international clinical trials right here in Manitoba.

“Pre-pandemic, one of our local doctors, Dr Ryan Zarychanski, came up with an idea, developed a protocol and started a clinical trial, the shortened name of it was HALO. We were looking at anticoagulation, which is a blood thinner, for patients admitted to the intensive care unit with severe sepsis,” explains Nicole. “We were doing this trial in Canada, the U.S., Brazil, Greece, Pakistan, and India. Once the pandemic hit, Dr Zarychanski was contacted by doctors across the world asking about anticoagulation to improve outcomes for patients with COVID as they appeared to be at higher risk of being diagnosed with a blood clot.”

After that, things really took off for the team of three.

“We started planning an investigator-initiated clinical trial looking at anticoagulation in hospitalized patients with COVID-19 towards the latter part of March 2020. The first participant was enrolled mid-May 2020 and by January 2021 the trial was stopped for benefit with twelve hundred and three (1203) participants enrolled. That is almost unheard of, clinical trials just don't happen that fast,” adds Nicole. “And in that time, we as a group had decided that we were going to participate in a lot of the other COVID research that was going on. There were at least eight COVID specific trials active during the pandemic.”

These days, the team is closer to 20 people, made up of project managers, research nurses, associates, coordinators and both office and research assistants. They do clinical trials at three sites in Winnipeg: St. Boniface Hospital, Grace Hospital, and Health Sciences Centre.  Nicole’s title is now Research Team Manager Critical Care, Hematology & COVID clinical trials.

“It’s amazing that we were able to make that happen so quickly. We're a great team and we really hit it out of the ballpark with the people that we hired,” she says. “At the start of the pandemic we had retired nurses reaching out to us and offering to help. Med students, residents, other displaced research staff came on board at different times as well. We’re really fortunate with the people we found or who found us. We do really great work.”

Work that many folks may not even realize happens right here, in our province.

“We run a lot of clinical trials locally here from Winnipeg and some of them are international,” she shares. “I think a lot of people don't know that this goes on. Everybody knows that we wouldn't have antibiotics or vaccines if we didn't have clinical research, but do they know it happens right here?”

It’s a lot of work, but it’s work that the entire team enjoys coming together to do.

“Everyone who’s joined our team has been amazing. They’re great. They come from differing backgrounds and bring so much knowledge and skills,” says Nicole.

The “team” can also be expanded to include the many doctors and patient partners they work alongside to develop the best clinical trials they can for all involved.

“Clinical research wouldn’t happen if people, in our case patients didn’t agree to participate in these trials. I think it's really important to get the patient and caregiver’s perspective, “What's important to them? What would they like to see the outcomes being?” and to support the investigators as much as we can,” says Nicole. “Always looking at better, more efficient ways to do things.”

“We're an anomaly in the clinical research field right now because we're so large. You'll not often see a large group like this,” explains Nicole. “But it’s an amazing group and I get such new perspectives from them, all the time. My career as nurse has provided me with diverse experiences and life lessons that I will always be grateful for.”