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Interview with Dr. Trung Nguyen

Interview with Dr. Trung Nguyen
2022 11-24

“In terms of work, we have improved a lot. We have simplified certain things, we have put procedures in place, and we have put forward many things at the same time. Thanks to COVID-19, we have many more resources, and we have been able to make much more progress than before.”

The COVID-19 crisis was an unprecedented event. How is the virology service dealing with the pandemic challenges?

As a Public Health microbiology laboratory, we monitored the situation in Wuhan from day one. When the public health alert was in place, Our department created an emergency response team that I coordinated and involved epidemiologists, technical, logistic, and scientific members at LNS to ensure our preparedness for potential impact in Luxembourg with different measures in place.

The first thing we did was to analyze the situation, and we did it in two to three weeks. Then the second level is the scope. Initially, we set up an in-house test based on WHO protocol with a low capacity of  20 tests, sometimes going up to 50 per day. Once an increase in imported cases, we had to increase this figure up to 200. Moreover, in February/March 2020, we could do up to 500. In this regard, we were among the top 5 laboratories in Europe that were capable of doing up to 500 tests. Currently, we have a capacity of 2500 COVID-19 RT-PCR  tests per day.

During the early stage of the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a global concern about medical supplies. The masks and the personal protective clothing were well-known issues. However, the manufacturing company had problems delivering testing swabs and kits at the laboratory level due to the explosive number of testing. We diversified our suppliers and maintained a critical stock to ensure that the national testing capacity is not undermined. The workforce had been another bottleneck in many countries, and we had addressed that by expanding our team and ensuring the quality of service is kept at excellent standards by a certified training program.

We worked on several levels. We mobilized resources, trained our staff, and sought the support of our management and of our national partners, including the Ministry of health. And that is how we were able to respond to this crisis. We were also working overtime, 16 to 18 hours a day, and that effort is what helped us fight the COVID-19 pandemic.


As a virologist, how do you assess the current situation in Luxembourg?

I think the situation is now calming down. Most people are vaccinated- 70% to 80%  of the population. In this regard, I am not worried at all. Well, there is no doubt that the infection will continue because we are letting go of the barriers, but the fact that the virus is mutated means that it will continue to circulate. It’s going to be a virus that spreads like the flu, Especially in winter but it will be quieter in summer. But as long as the hospitals are not saturated, we shouldn’t worry. We should not be alarmed unless the virus mutates in the wrong direction, but I think people are more or less immune, and the risk is very, very low. I believe we developed an excellent experience in crisis management in the laboratory setting.


Being a scientist dealing with a major public health crisis, how did it change you at a personal level? Did you always want to work in the virology field?

As a virologist, you are prepared for this type of situation. Fortunately, these pandemics only happen every century, and I think that if it had happened 20 or 30 years ago,  things would have been much more serious. Currently, there is a close collaboration between the different laboratories and countries. There is support and help. Even at the political level, there is a lot of tension and commitment. At the scientific level, we learn a lot from crises like this. The next time we face another one like this, we will be even more prepared. On a personal level, you get to the point and know what is essential. Above all, we know how to train the staff, which is most important: competent staff.


How has the pandemic affected your work?

We are exhausted. Most of the projects were frozen as we switched 300% of our capacity and energy into it. However, we have been able to continue for six months and we have been able to slowly resume our work. Nevertheless, I think it has been challenging on a personal level and for my family.

In terms of work, we have improved a lot. We have simplified specific processes, we have put procedures in place, and we have moved forward with many things at the same time. The COVID-19 crisis mobilized more resources, we have more resources, and we have been able to make much more progress and introduce automation and digitalization to a lot of our services. The evolution that we witnessed in our infrastructure over the last two years had accelerated our overall operation growth. Our efforts had been recognized nationally and internationally. We have been nominated as the national reference laboratory for acute respiratory infection and more recently joined the network of WHO-COVID-19 reference laboratory status. We set high standards in our quality assurance system to ensure that we provide excellent service to our patients and our public health system.


In your line of work, what would you say is the most important thing?

Personally, I think that at the workplace, the most important thing is the staff’s well-being. Colleagues need to be motivated and feel valued and recognized at work, and people need to be able to grow professionally and have the tools to perform their duties correctly.


How has your career path led you to work at LNS Microbiology?

My career path started at University and I could have stayed working there. I enjoyed the academic setting where our team had many projects. However, due to limited funding, it was difficult to transform our ideas into implementation, so I decided to move to laboratory services in the private sector, which was challenging. You can learn a lot about efficiency, reporting, and profitability, but I felt that I would like to be involved in public health service. Hence, I joined LNS. At the LNS, I feel excited to come every day to work as we are constantly challenged and that is what keeps me going, what motivates me. Moreover, we know that our work impacts public health and reaches the whole population of Luxembourg.


What are the projects or research you are currently working on?

At the moment, I’m working on the biothreat lab. Thus, preparing for biological threats, either a pandemic, at level 3 or 4, or an even higher level. We also work on bioterrorist threats, and this is also a NATO obligation. Furthermore, we work with everything related to emerging diseases, which is an obligation of the WHO and ECDC. Usually, it’s something that we have to be prepared for. I was working on this when COVID-19 arrived, so everything was more or less prepared. In terms of biosafety, it requires protection and development, and also research, it’s a whole other thing. It’s a fairly large project.

We are also working on vectors and vector-borne diseases. These are diseases from mosquitoes, ticks, and all diseases transmitted by insects. This field is recommended at the ECDC level but is not yet compulsory. However, it will increase with climate change, which is why it is in our project portfolio.

Finally, we are currently working on the polio eradication project, which dates back to 2003. Before COVID-19, we were in the terminal phase of polio, but COVID-19 has led to a slackening of the disease.

In a nutshell, these are projects that we are currently working on. We also have other internal projects, such as the digitalization of the laboratory and everything related to quality enhancement.


More about Dr. Trung Nguyen


I am a medical biologist and I pursued my studies at the UCL, in Brussels, Belgium. I did a lot of research and that is why I already knew the medical laboratory environment.


When I started my medical studies, I had already worked on vectors and that is why it is my field of expertise. There is a big demand in this field of work but not many experts or practitioners on the matter. When I started my career in Clinical Biology, there was a death from SARS-1 in Tourcoing, which was 30-40 km from the laboratory where I used to work. Therefore,  I was already indirectly prepared for COVID-19. These are things you don’t forget.


I used to do a lot of sports, including walks in the forest, trekking, and diving. In fact, I do a lot of outdoor activities. Unfortunately, for a while now, I did not have time for that at all, but I still go for walks.