SARS-CoV-2 Research Stories and our Biomedical Research Heroes
The Northwest is a special place. You already know that. Here we want to honor those of you working on the COVID-19 pandemic.
Please tell us if you know of a team working on any aspect of COVID-19, from basic science on SARS-CoV-2 to treatment approaches, to data modeling and epidemiology to vaccine development, to animal studies and animal welfare to protect the research lab animal colonies.
We also want to share stories that highlight human goodness, generosity and creativity. You can find these feel-good stories here.
Amanda Tandinata is a Federal Regulatory Affairs Coordinator at Swedish Cancer Institute. She is a passionate communicator and team member to ensure research moves forward during these challenging times. Watch her video here. Amanda also designed the above logo. If you are interested in downloading this image, she invites you to use it by clicking this link!
Kaiser Permanente Washington Research Institute is running the first SARS-CoV-2 vaccine trial, right here in Seattle. They enrolled their first human volunteer on March 16th. The messenger RNA vaccine candidate was identified by Moderna Therapeutics in partnership with the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease.
Meet Trevor Bedford, a Fred Hutch scientist who studies viruses, evolution and immunity. His Twitter posts @trvrb are a go-to place for info. Trevor is a team player and cites lots of collaborating colleagues, including the team at NextStrain. Using genetic sequence data with epidemiology, math and data visualization he tried to alert public health decision makers as early as late January that the virus was already enjoying community spread. The cat was out of the bag and having kittens. Lots of them. He continues to communicate spread, doubling time and genetic relatedness of different viral isolates. Science creates knowledge which can and should affect policies and behaviors. Click here for the map below that updates regularly on the global spread of COVID-19 with a lens of genomic analysis.
Fred Hutch is involved in other ways too. They are working on tests to detect antibodies to learn if someone has been infected with SARS-CoV-2 and has recovered. I would very much like to know if I had an asymptomatic case or if this bump in spring asthma is just allergies. Knowing the community picture will also provide a sense of community immunity.
From a recent article in The Scientist Magazine, researchers everywhere have "reduced mouse colony sizes and put experiments on hold. Even if work starts again before the two or three months that they’re anticipating being shut down, it will take months to regenerate mouse colonies, expand breeding, and revive strains from frozen stocks, [Dr. Kathleen Millen] writes. 'Mouse suppliers are certain to be swamped with orders for common strains, which will also cause delays. I predict that we have lost at least a year on our mouse-based projects. This is devastating for everyone.'"
The University of Washington is tackling COVID-19 on many levels. Kristina Waldorf is a clinical obstetrician and also has a research practice. She studies the impact of viral infections on a growing fetus. She is shifting her efforts from Zika to SARS-CoV-2. My pregnant neighbor is glad to hear that someone is working on this. She said she spent her last pregnancy during the first US Zika scare and is now worried again.
Dr. Michael Gale is an immunologist at UW Medicine. He is handling live SARS-CoV-2 in a BL-3 lab to understand how human's innate immunity is broken down by the virus. He wants to understand how the virus gains access to, replicates within and destroys lung tissue.
Microsoft and Adaptive Biotechnologies are working together decoding our immune response to SARS-CoV-2.
"Clinical trials have already started at Virginia Mason Medical Center. We are working quickly to develop studies within Benaroya Research Institute using samples from hospitalized patients with COVID-19. At BRI we believe that collaboration is the best way to speed discoveries, and now this is more important than ever. We are making plans to work with the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, scientists at the University of Washington and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to use our expertise in translational immunology to assist their studies of COVID-19."~Jane Buckner, President
IDRI will soon begin a clinical trial with 100 currently sick patients infected with SARS-Cov-2. The research uses natural killer cells (NK-cells), a type of white blood cell already found in the body, to help patients heal more quickly and reverse or avoid the organ damage that sometimes happens when the extreme immune response begins to damage healthy tissue. In a recent interview by The Seattle Times, CEO Dr. Corey Casper laid out the study. "When COVID-19 patients get very sick in the hospital, the problem is not just due to the virus, but the body trying to fight that virus. In some of the organs like the lungs, there’s ‘friendly fire’ so to speak. The inflammation that occurs when the body tries to fight that damage sets off damage.
The research gives volunteers "an infusion of these NK-cells and their whole job is to find sites of active viral infection in your organs, kill the virus, and reduce the damage or inflammation that’s being done in those organs." Casper concluded, “It’s been known for some time that these are pretty important immune cells in that fight,’’ Casper said. “The most severe cases in China have the lowest amounts of these NK-cells in their blood. What the hypothesis is here is that you can give people an infusion of these NK-cells and … kill the virus and begin to orchestrate an effective immune response that doesn’t set off a series of harmful inflammation events.’’ Thanks to The Seattle Times for conducting the original interview. Read the original article here.
Oregon Health and Science University also has key projects related to the virus underway. This article brilliantly outlines the 175 covid studies launched early in the pandemic. A few have changed direction since the original publication, but the stories are inspiring nonetheless.