Universities have always led the charge to address our nation’s most pressing issues – from national security to public health crises. The current COVID-19 pandemic is no different, with university researchers quickly pivoting their work to find treatments, a vaccine, and a way to alleviate the global supply shortage of health care equipment to support our health care workers and systems.
Fundamental research conducted years ago in partnership with federal research agencies like the National Science Foundation, the Department of Energy, and the National Institutes of Health, has provided much of the knowledge researchers are using to alleviate the stress of COVID-19 today.
Sustained, robust, and predictable federal investment in fundamental research is important now more than ever, and the research conducted now may allow us to mitigate – or even prevent – future public health crises.
Urban vegetation could slow the spread of COVID-19 by improving air quality and keeping people socially distanced, according to Auburn University researchers. Their study found areas with higher amounts of green space were associated with lower cumulative cases of COVID-19, suggesting smart planning for urban vegetation could be an important factor in mitigating future public health crises. The researchers also found urban vegetation had a positive impact on mental health.
An Auburn University researcher is examining public health messaging and responses in Alabama, Louisiana, and Mississippi to understand how people living in poor states consumed and acted on science-based communications from decision makers. With the COVID-19 pandemic disproportionately affecting underserved communities, findings from the research will be implemented in messaging strategies to fill persistent knowledge gaps. The research was funded by a RAPID grant from the National Science Foundation.
A team of Brown University researchers used computer models to simulate airflow inside a car with various combinations of windows open or closed. The results showed opening windows created airflow patterns that dramatically reduced the concentration of airborne particles, including SARS-CoV-2, exchanged between a driver and a passenger. While public health officials advise against unnecessary travel during the pandemic, the study provides a strategy to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission for those who must share a vehicle.
Brown University researchers found statewide stay-at-home orders significantly slowed COVID-19 growth rates in the early months of the pandemic, providing strong evidence in support of similar containment measures for future crises. According to the study, the amount of time it took for COVID-19 cases to double was less than three days before stay-at-home orders went into effect, but more than two weeks afterward in states with strict restrictions on movement.
Columbia University scientists provided expert advice to New York City officials with the creation of the Pandemic Response Lab, a laboratory facility that rapidly processes COVID-19 tests. University researchers evaluated diagnostic technologies to support the city’s need for safe testing, helping to expand testing capacity and actualize a robust, citywide track-and-trace system to mitigate the spread of the virus.
Researchers at Columbia University conducted a study that analyzed New Yorkers’ mobility during exponential growth periods of the COVID-19 pandemic, finding that low-income populations and communities of color used the subway most often, increasing their risk of infection. The research, funded by the National Science Foundation, demonstrates how early mitigation efforts, including social distancing, compounded pre-existing health disparities among essential workers. Their findings will be an important consideration in future health policy, as decision makers work to balance transmission risk with socioeconomic burdens.
Since 2016, a team of Dartmouth researchers have studied the coronavirus spike protein that cause infection. When the spread of COVID-19 was elevated to a pandemic, the researchers used their working knowledge of the spike’s structure to design a special form of the protein that can stimulate antibody production, laying the groundwork for future vaccine development.
A Dartmouth study indicates that nursing home workers with multiple jobs may be a contributing factor to the spread of COVID-19 in these facilities due to their movement between employers. Seniors are especially vulnerable to the pandemic, and this research sheds light on the circumstances affecting the health care workers with whom they are often in close contact. The study suggests more aggressive federal and state initiatives to combat low health care wages and reduce the imperative for secondary employment.
Florida State University
Kourosh Shoele, an assistant professor at Florida State University, is part of a team working to improve the efficacy of face masks in preventing the spread of COVID-19. While face masks have been demonstrated to reduce transmission of the virus, Shoele is researching the flow physics of masks to understand how facial shape and mask fit can improve protections. With this knowledge, consumers could see improved designs and higher standards for their masks.
A Florida State University study, conducted with the University of Nebraska, found COVID-19 disproportionately affects older people of color in the United States. Black and Latinx populations over 65 face a COVID-19 death rate three and two times higher than their white counterparts, respectively. The research connects historic patterns of racism and bias in health care access to the present public health crisis, and calls for greater attention on systemic inequality to address population-level health outcomes.
Harvard researchers discovered natural variations in ultraviolet radiation influence the spread of COVID-19, suggesting the incidence of COVID-19 may have a seasonal pattern. The virus may spread faster in winter due to the lack of natural sunlight that accompanies the summer months. Understanding the potential seasonality of COVID-19 transmission could help inform advanced pandemic response measures and provide strapped health care facilities time to prepare.
Faculty at Harvard created the How We Feel app to crowdsource data on participants’ symptoms, test results, potential exposure, health risks, and more — logging more than 12 million responses and 700,000 active users since its launch. The self-reported information is aggregated and shared with researchers and public health agencies who study the epidemiological characteristics, transmission dynamics, interventions, and physical and mental profiles to gain insights about combating the disease at both the individual and population levels.
A team at Indiana University is developing a breathalyzer-like test to quickly detect COVID-19 by identifying the scent in breath altered by the virus. Using breath samples from people who have tested positive and negative for COVID-19, the researchers, who received funding through the National Science Foundation, are developing technology to test many individuals in a short amount of time, significantly curbing the spread of the virus.
Researchers at Indiana University calculated the first generalizable infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID-19 by age, race, ethnicity and sex — the first study to determine the risk of death from COVID-19 for people living outside of institutions, like prisons or nursing homes. The information provides a more accurate picture of the pandemic in Indiana and across the country, helping public health officials make determinations based on sound data.
Johns Hopkins University
A team of Johns Hopkins University biomedical engineers and heart specialists developed the COVID-HEART predictor, which uses an algorithm to warn doctors several hours before hospitalized COVID-19 patients experience cardiac arrest or blood clots. The machine learning uses real-time data from every COVID-19 patient in the hospital system to make its predictions. With the advance warning, doctors are better able to prioritize high-risk patients, conduct preemptive interventions, and allocate resources in short supply.
Johns Hopkins researchers developed an online calculator that estimates the mortality risk in currently uninfected individuals based on a set of risk factors and community-level pandemic dynamics in the state of residence. The calculator will help in determining vaccine prioritization and resource allocation to minimize the chance of at-risk individuals infecting others.
In July, a team of researchers at Marquette University received a grant to study the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on intimate partner violence and provide community resources to improve services for survivors based on their findings.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
MIT researchers created a computational system to model viral escape, the process by which the virus is able to avoid detection by the immune system through rapid mutation. The model can identify which sections of a virus’ proteins are less likely to mutate and are therefore good targets for vaccine development, including for SARS-CoV-2. The team is now using the model to identify new mutations of the virus. Their research was supported by the National Science Foundation.
Scientists at MIT transitioned their work on diagnostic algorithms to create an artificial intelligence model to distinguish asymptomatic individuals infected by COVID-19 from their healthy peers based on the sound of their cough. The model accurately identified 100 percent of people known to have COVID-19. The team is working to scale the technology into an app that people could use at home as a first step in identifying a potential infection.
New York University
A group of New York University dentists created a mobile app that collates a patient’s health information into a “severity score” to help doctors determine those who are most likely to have severe cases of COVID-19. The clinical decision support system could lift stress off health care workers as they assess a high volume of patients, especially in underserved areas where the virus has had a disproportionate impact.
NYU researchers conducted a study which found pre-symptomatic and asymptomatic adolescents and young adults have played a significant role in the spread of COVID-19; however, they have not been prioritized as key populations in the public health response. The study calls for age-appropriate control measures in future public health mitigation efforts.
North Carolina State University
Researchers at North Carolina State University are tackling vaccine hesitancy by drawing on previous behavioral research in order to design persuasive, science-based vaccine communications. They have developed 12 strategies that could create an effective vaccine-promotion effort. Current public health officials estimate 80 percent of the U.S. population will need to be vaccinated before normal life can resume, so debunking misinformation and promoting good public health decisions is critical.
A team at NC State’s CRISPR lab is using funding from the National Institutes of Health to engineer mucosal vaccines from probiotic bacteria. The food scientists pivoted their original work on a rotavirus vaccine into one of 600 vaccine projects underway around the globe.
An engineering student at Northeastern University designed and built a mobile robot that uses UV light to sterilize surfaces, helping to curb the spread of COVID-19. The device uses sensors to detect its surroundings, similar to a Roomba vacuum.
A model of COVID-19 created by Northeastern University researchers is helping public health officials make informed decisions. Their model is different from others because it accounts for human behavior and medical resources in a given area, after which that information is used to predict the spread of the disease.
Northern Illinois University
Northern Illinois University Biological Sciences Professor Neil Blackstone is using evolutionary theory to make recommendations on managing the COVID-19 pandemic. With natural selection in mind, he has called for a closer examination of SARS-CoV-2 variants as vaccines are developed and urged officials to consider the role of population density in disease spread. With proper measures, people can effectively change the evolutionary course of the disease and save lives.
Faculty from academic departments across Northern Illinois University have quickly pivoted their research projects to provide insight into the COVID-19 pandemic. From electrical engineering to computer science to accounting and psychology, their work is crucial to better understand the virus and how it affects Americans.
A professor from Pace University says the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic represents a historic shock for both supply and demand forces. Given the unprecedented nature of the crisis, he says government should first prioritize measures to stop the spread of the virus followed by congressional measures to distribute basic resources to people in need.
Penn State University
An algorithm called DOCTOR developed by Penn State researchers at the College of Information Sciences and Technology could help public health officials allocate daily COVID-19 testing among symptomatic and asymptomatic individuals while resources remain in short supply. DOCTOR is adaptive, meaning its recommendations will change as the course of COVID-19 shifts. The first strategy DOCTOR suggested was a 65/35 split in favor of symptomatic individuals, and in a simulation in Santiago, Panama, the strategy resulted in approximately 40 percent fewer infections.
Before a person becomes sick with COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus has to attach itself to protein cells in the body. Penn State researchers modeled this process to learn how structural differences in the virus’ spiked exterior affect how it binds with a human’s cells. With an understanding of this behavior, their research could inform future work on vaccine durability and predict if and how viruses will spread to other species. The Department of Agriculture, the Department of Energy, and the National Science Foundation funded this work.
Princeton University scientists helped to conduct the largest COVID-19 contact tracing study, monitoring more than half a million people in India to understand the factors most affecting the virus’s spread. The research found superspreaders, who represent only a small portion of total infections, posed the greatest risk, and that children and young adults may be driving transmission. Additionally, the research found that shutdown orders help to curb mounting cases, providing public health insights to inform future policy decisions. The work was supported by the National Science Foundation.
Princeton researchers developed an affordable diagnostic AI tool to analyze chest X-rays for patterns in diseased lungs. Among COVID-19 patients, doctors have observed two primary types of lung damage. Using the tool to distinguish between them could result in more effective treatment courses and save scarce resources for the most severe cases.
Rochester Institute of Technology
Researchers at Rochester Institute of Technology created interactive graphs to show the general public how COVID-19 can spread based on a number of factors such as how often people wear masks. Along with demonstrating the positive or negative consequences of good public health choices, the team hopes decision makers will use it to understand how case spikes can be controlled, taking vaccines doses and the number of active cases into account.
A class of video game design students at Rochester Institute of Technology created four games which bring the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic to life while educating the general public about the importance of health-conscious behaviors. In one game, players must help their neighbors while social distancing; another requires players to manage resources for low-income families.
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Rutgers University served as the second-largest site for the Johnson & Johnson clinical vaccine trial. The site enrolled 840 participants in the study, which found the vaccine candidate to be 62 percent effective overall at preventing COVID-19. With those results, Johnson & Johnson received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration.
Rutgers researchers identified a safe and effective method of delivering an aerosol vaccine to the lungs to prevent COVID-19 and other respiratory complications. Using particles known to interact well with lung cells, the researchers were able to deliver treatment directly to the site of infection and reduce the incidence of side effects. Now that the method has demonstrated its efficacy, it could lead to less invasive and cost-efficient therapeutic treatments for a host of other diseases.
Stanford researchers are developing a single-dose vaccine for COVID-19 that could be more easily stored and transported than current options. Pivoting their research from vaccines for HIV, Ebola, and influenza, the lab added the coronavirus spike protein to nanoparticles to form the basis for their vaccine. Some nanoparticle formulations can be kept at room temperature, so the potential vaccine could eliminate a significant barrier in delivering doses to low and middle income countries, curbing the pandemic worldwide.
Stanford researchers are screening samples of COVID-19 variants from around the world to determine their presence in the Bay Area and have already identified one as the cause of an outbreak. As the virus continues to mutate, it is critical public health officials are able to track it and make decisions accordingly.
Stony Brook University
Researchers at Stony Brook University are studying the potential of activating cells in blood vessel walls as a way to improve lung function for patients suffering from severe cases of COVID-19. Their work demonstrates the virus interacts differently with these cells than others, which could open up new pathways for targeted therapeutic treatments to resolve COVID-19 related lung problems.
The Ohio State University
Scientists at The Ohio State University are hoping to boost a natural cellular process that decreases inflammation to protect patients on ventilators from long-term lung damage. While the body is able to combat a certain amount of stress caused by a ventilator, it is not enough to prevent dangerous respiratory distress. The work could lead to a new therapy wherein anti-inflammatory molecules are engineered in a lab and given to intubated patients, warding off the most severe complications including respiratory failure.
A study at The Ohio State University confirmed that specific proteins, which have been understood to inhibit influenza, are also effective at inhibiting SARS-CoV-2. The discovery is important because some people have mutations of that gene, which could make them more susceptible to infection — and in some cases, the virus infiltrates those mutations causing further damage. The researchers will continue to investigate how COVID-19 interacts with different cell types and how that could inform vaccine development. Their work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
University at Buffalo
The University at Buffalo hosted clinical trials of Remdesivir as the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) studied the drug’s potential in treating hospitalized COVID-19 patients. The data collected at UB was later shared with other institutions conducting randomized trials, and contributed to its eventual FDA approval. Remdesivir has been shown to reduce recovery from COVID-19 by an average of five days, helping patients feel better faster and freeing up hospital space.
Due to the nature of their work, dentists are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 transmission, but shortages in personal protective equipment have left them struggling to fill in the gaps. A team of dental students at the University at Buffalo is using 3D printers to create face masks for local dentists to wear as they examine patients’ mouths. Using a design approved by the National Institutes of Health, the team has created more than 150 face shields.
University of California System
In 2020, the University of California’s ten campuses and health care system were integral in addressing the COVID-19 pandemic and have had a tangible impact in their local communities. From boosting testing capacity to providing personal protective equipment and pivoting ongoing research work into pandemic related studies in partnership with federal research agencies, the faculty, staff, and students across the UC System had an important impact on steering the health crisis in the right direction.
In the face of a ventilator shortage, UC Berkeley scientists are converting sleep apnea machines into FDA-approved ventilators. By creating an accessible, affordable alternative to high-grade ventilators, the team has found way for people who need help breathing to receive support while saving the high-grade ventilators for advanced respiratory care for hospitalized patients. While ventilator production has ramped up in the U.S., the Berkeley machines are being provided to other countries are still facing shortages.
A team of UC Berkeley researchers are studying if saliva samples are a reliable method of testing for COVID-19. Whereas current testing requires uncomfortable swaps and close contact with PPE-outfitted health care workers, saliva can be collected at home, saving time, money, and medical supplies. If the study shows saliva is as effective at detecting at COVID-19 as nasal swabs, testing capacity would be significantly increased to identify asymptomatic individuals before they transmit the virus further in the community.
Researchers at UC Davis found that rhesus macaque monkeys vaccinated against COVID-19 developed protective immune responses, suggesting long-lasting immunity against the virus. The work was supported by the National Institutes of Health.
UC Davis Health is one of the first health systems in the nation to offer a rapid combined COVID-19 and flu test. Since symptoms of COVID-19 and the flu are very similar, doctors recommend those feeling ill be tested to ensure proper precautions are taken. The UC Davis test significantly increases testing capacity because it allows tests that only confirm COVID-19 to be saved for patients who have been exposed to the virus. The combined test provides “gold-standard” results in 24 hours or less and can accommodate hundreds of patients per day.
UC Irvine researchers conducted a study in Orange County to understand the prevalence of COVID-19 compared to confirmed cases in the area. The results showed the rate of COVID-19 was seven times higher than previous estimates, demonstrating many residents had already been exposed to the virus and developed antibodies. With an understanding of how many people were infected, the researchers are better able to identify at-risk groups, assess how easily the disease spreads, and estimate a community’s herd immunity, all of which will be provided to public health officials as they determine steps for reopening.
Researchers at UC Irvine have developed a low-cost antibody detection platform for COVID-19. Using blood from a finger prick to test for antibody responses from 14 respiratory viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the results are then printed and analyzed in less than four hours. Whereas similar imaging technology can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, this portable tool is only $200 and is able to process other swab tests for COVID-19 on a single platform, helping to increase the nation’s testing capacity to levels necessary for reopening.
In October, scientists at UCLA Health received emergency FDA authorization to begin using SwabSeq, a new method of COVID-19 detection utilizing sequencing technology. The method is capable of testing thousands of samples for coronavirus at the same time, producing accurate, individual results in less than 24 hours. SwabSeq adds a unique molecular bar code to each sample in the first step of its processing, which is then combined in a sequencer to identify the virus. The underlying technology of SwabSeq can be applied to any type of sample collection, such as a nasopharyngeal, oropharyngeal or saliva test, dramatically increasing the amount of available COVID-19 tests while reducing wait times and costs.
Stem cell researchers across UCLA have sprung into action in the fight against COVID-19, pivoting their ongoing projects into pandemic related work to treat and mitigate its effects. In one study, scientists are testing how SARS-CoV-2 interacts with lab-grown cultures of lung tissue in an effort to develop a therapy that could prevent lung damage in COVID-19 patients. In another, two professors channled their work on cancer therapy drugs into a COVID-19 treatment that blocks the DNA repair processes both cancer cells and SARS-CoV-2 exploit. Preliminary results show limited viral replication and cell death, which could limit the spread of infection and later complications from the virus.
Researchers at UC Merced conducted a study that found California counties with high numbers of low-wage workers are seeing higher incidence of COVID-19, suggesting a link between “worker distress” and the spread of the virus. While efforts to contain COVID-19 have centered on regulating large gatherings and closing certain businesses, the findings suggest authorities must also track transmissions within low-wage industries and create a greater safety net for workers in essential jobs. The study of data from California’s 58 counties and the U.S. Census Bureau found a strong relationship between low-wage work and COVID-19 positive test rates. It also identified industries with the greatest prevalence of low wages, such as agricultural work, food services, transportation and other essential roles.
UC Merced researchers are examining how rural, Latinx communities in California have been affected by COVID-19. Through interviews, the researchers spoke with immigrants in Merced, Tulare and Imperial counties about how the pandemic has shaped their financial circumstances, employment conditions, access to health care, and other basic needs. The researchers found that Latinx immigrant families in rural areas are contending with three pandemic related crises: a higher risk of COVID-19 infection, severe financial insecurity, and resulting food insecurity and mental health risks. The findings will be shared with immigrant-focused organizations in California to create more resources and inform their response strategies.
Scientists at the University of California, Riverside, have used machine learning to identify hundreds of new potential drugs that could help treat COVID-19. With large scale vaccinations still months down the line for the majority of the population, repurposing FDA-approved drugs like Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 is a way to bridge the gap. Their analysis narrowed down drug candidates known to work against human protein targets that could be viable in fighting COVID-19, all of which is stored in a database accessible to other scientists who might otherwise wait years to collect such robust information. While created as a resource to identify and test COVID-19 treatments, the predictions could accelerate drug discovery for other diseases.
Scientists at UC Riverside are working to determine how a COVID-19 infection could be stopped in its tracks at the molecular level. In their study, the team found that two proteases — enzymes on the surface of a host cell — could be inhibited from processing a virus like SARS-CoV-2, therefore stopping an infection before it begins. Their work, which was supported by the National Institutes of Health, is being tested on COVID-19 patients and could form the basis of future COVID-19 therapeutics.
UC San Diego
Masks have become an essential component of COVID-19 prevention, but thanks to the work of researchers at UC San Diego, they could also aid in detection. Backed by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the team is designing a color-changing test strip that adheres to a mask and can detect SARS-CoV-2 in the wearer’s breath or saliva. After wearing the mask throughout the day, users can conduct a simple test using the strip which accumulates particles throughout the day and will reveal the presence of COVID-19. The tests are part of an effort to bring accessible testing tools to the public so they can be part of broad mitigation and prevention efforts. If their test results look suspicious, the user could then seek further medical attention and minimize their risk to others.
UC San Diego researchers are working to understand where and how social determinants of health are affecting groups of people’s experience with the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus has had a disproportionate impact on underserved populations, and an nuanced analysis of these effects will help public health officials tackle the virus more effectively, from increased testing sites in a particular area to culturally inclusive health care communications. Already, UC San Diego has partnered with local organizations to stand up an affordable testing site for pregnant women and children, funded through a grant from the National Institutes of Health.
UC San Francisco
Researchers at UC San Francisco developed ReScan, a test that improves the way health care workers identify people who have COVID-19 or were previously infected. The ReScan test uses phages — a type of virus that attacks bacteria — to show which proteins found in SARS-CoV-2 are present in a patient’s blood sample, revealing both if the person has COVID-19 and the viral protein sequences of their infection. With a high volume of testers to compare against, the researchers can determine where antibodies are most commonly found, which viral proteins should be incorporated into future testing methods, and how best to prioritize individuals for vaccination.
A team of researchers at UC San Francisco created AeroNabs, a shelf-stable product that uses a molecule to hinder the crown of coronaviruses from interacting with a host cell, preventing further infection. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation and built on research originally conducted with llamas and camels, their studies showed the aerosol formula for AeroNabs was potent enough to neutralize the virus in a form that can be mass produced. If clinical trials are successful, Aeronabs’ affordable, user-friendly technology could quickly be made available to the public and provide a critical stopgap as vaccine distribution continues.
UC Santa Barbara
Researchers at UC Santa Barbara have found evidence that the spread of COVID-19 is sensitive to UV exposure, and understanding its seasonality could inform future public health measures. Unlike other models of COVID-19’s relationship with UV radiation, the UCSB study takes cultural factors, such as health care quality, into account. Their model predicted a decrease in COVID-19 cases when the days are shorter and there is less overall UV radiation, making the case for more vigilant containment policies depending on the season. However, the number of cases could not be solely linked to climate patterns; local public health measures accounted for a significant portion of the COVID-19 situation in a given area.
In preparation for the winter months, UC Santa Barbara researchers modeled the transmission of COVID-19 according to environmental conditions. The study found respiratory droplets, the vehicle through which COVID-19 spreads, spread further in cool, humid areas and persisted longer where temperatures were lower — which could account for early outbreaks at food processing facilities. The research could help guide decision makers in designing mitigation strategies based on local climate conditions and shed light on the course of the pandemic.
UC Santa Cruz
A UC Santa Cruz researcher spearheaded the development of a new COVID-19 test that can provide results in less than 20 minutes. Using an optical biosensor to measure antibody levels in the blood, the test is quicker than other methods but maintains the “gold standard” of accuracy associated with slower tests. While the test cannot diagnose active infections, understanding antibodies in the immune system may help to establish a minimum baseline of antibody levels in order for an individual to be considered protected and assess the prevalence of infections across communities.
The UCSC Molecular Diagnostic Laboratory has been an integral partner in scaling testing capacity throughout the Santa Cruz community during the pandemic and managing the spread of infections. Now, a gift for the UCSC Genomics Institute means the lab will eventually be able to double its testing capacity from 3,000 to 6,000 tests per week and hire additional health care staff to support their work. The facility has been operational since last May, but with a new permanent home, will be better equipped to serve low-income populations and those without private health insurance.
University of Colorado Boulder
Getting students back in the classroom following COVID-19 requires safe air to breathe, so University of Colorado Boulder engineering researchers decided to lend a hand in providing high-efficiency air filters that reduce airborne particle exposure in schools. With its cylindrical design, the filter takes in and purifies air from all directions, and preliminary results show the air quality is equal to that of the outdoors on a good air quality day. Quiet, efficient, and affordable, the filters could help the local community manage air quality concerns, such as wildfires and rapid urbanization, long after the pandemic’s end.
Ancient parasites could help to explain why some better are naturally more resilient to viruses than others. In the face of COVID-19, a team at University of Colorado Boulder hypothesizes that our ancestors were exposed to parasites that permanently altered the genome and could account for today’s varied immune responses. Previous research shows that at least half of the human genome is made up of bits of DNA left by viruses, and these leftover fragments could affect our ability to fight off threats or make some populations more resilient. Learning how and why immune responses vary within a population could impact our ability to predict individual responses to infection and autoimmune diseases.
University of Florida
With support from the National Institutes of Health, a team of University of Florida neuroscientists will analyze two different smell tests’ efficacy at identifying positive COVID-19 cases. Loss of smell is one of the most common symptoms of COVID-19, so the study will examine participants’ ability to identify odors and test their sensitivity to different odor concentrations to determine which test better predicts a COVID diagnosis. Access to COVID-19 tests remains a challenge for many, so an additional tool that can be implemented is important to ensuring those people have the information necessary to seek additional care.
The University of Florida helped conduct clinical trial research for Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody cocktail to treat COVID-19. UF Health hopes to enroll at least 20 hospitalized patients with COVID-19 to determine if the therapy can reliably neutralize the virus and prevent it from infecting cells, which would then reduce a patient’s viral load and, hopefully, improve their health outcomes.
University of Illinois
The University of Illinois created the UVBot, a robot which uses UV light to sterilize spaces and kill COVID-19. Built from everyday parts, including a Roomba vacuum and a UV lamp, the device is significantly more affordable and accessible than high-tech alternatives. UVBot can navigate rooms autonomously via sensors or be controlled by a smartphone. Early tests showed a 99 percent virus inactivation rate.
In a new study, University of Illinois researchers developed a COVID-19 molecular test and an instrument to read the results in 30 minutes, which could open up new opportunities in point-of-care diagnoses. Currently, testing for COVID-19 is a multistep process spread out over weeks or days, but this new device and test system could be used on the go and produced quickly, boosting testing capacity around the country. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation, the National Institutes of Health, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.
University of Iowa
In the new study, scientists at the University of Iowa found a repurposed mouse model can develop both mild and severe symptoms of COVID-19. Drawing on research conducted a decade ago, the team demonstrated their mouse model could be useful for understanding the spectrum of COVID-19 symptoms, and developing and testing new treatments, since mice treated with convalescent plasma experienced a loss of smell, but did not die of the disease.
University of Iowa students are working as contact tracers in Iowa City to help manage the COVID-19 pandemic in the local area and gain hands-on experience. After receiving information from the Johnson County Public Health Department, contract tracers follow up with patients to determine who else they may have infected and work with employers to prevent future infection.
University of Kansas
A team of researchers at the University of Kansas is working to create an at-home test for COVID-19. The test repurposes “lab on a chip” technology, which recognizes proteins found on the COVID-19 virus from a saliva sample. Supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, they hope the test will eventually be as accessible as an at-home pregnancy test, and may be adaptable to detect additional illnesses in the future, from cancer to radiation poisoning.
The University of Kansas worked with the Kansas Department of Health & Environment to test wastewater for the presence of COVID-19 in local communities and monitor if cases are increasing or decreasing. Kansas has lagged behind other states in testing, meaning COVID-19 could be more widespread than the current number of cases reflects. As testing continues to ramp up, keeping a close eye on wastewater is a reliable means of tracking communities’ health and could inform public health officials’ decisions to reopen parts of the economy.
University of Kentucky
The University of Kentucky worked cross-collaboratively between departments to develop the COVID-19 Biobank, a collection of specimens taken from inpatients who have tested positive for COVID-19 or display symptoms consistent with the virus, which are being used to support further COVID-19 research. Currently the biobank includes specimens from more than 34,000 consenting patients, and the specimens include materials such as blood and breath samples.
Researchers at the University of Kentucky are testing a new technology to track the presence of COVID-19 in communities through their wastewater. Their project, Wastewater Assessment for Coronavirus in Kentucky (WACKY), is being piloted at the university and could be scaled up to make testing for the virus more efficient and affordable, especially in areas with limited health care resources. The team is also studying how SARS-CoV-2 degrades in wastewater under different environmental conditions to help public health officials make decisions based on accurate data.
University of Maryland
University of Maryland researchers are exploring how autonomous robots could be used to maintain social distancing practices in crowds to reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Funded in part by the National Science Foundation, a circulating robot could serve as an objective reminder of proper public health behaviors and be operational at all hours of the day. Developing the smart technology to allow a robot to distinguish a group from a family, for instance, is an important piece of their work, along with testing other methods of communication to disperse large groups of people. While it may be some time before the robot could be put into everyday use, this research could elevate AI technology across the spectrum and accelerate robotic breakthroughs.
A University of Maryland study found that ongoing delays to COVID-19 vaccination rollouts around the world could result in a global economic loss of roughly $4 billion. Equitable vaccine distribution benefits countries of all sizes and GDP because of the trade relationships they rely on which underpin supply chains and resource sharing.
University of Michigan
The University of Michigan developed a new method to determine if COVID-19 can be detected in community wastewater before the virus is confirmed in the area, testing for both the virus in samples but also if infection rates are increasing or decreasing. By identifying and measuring genetic material left behind by SARS-CoV-2, the test provides more accurate results than earlier versions. As the number of cases in the United States remains high, coupled with the fact that many infected individuals are asymptomatic, it is crucial public health officials have numerous indicators to track the spread of the virus outside of individual testing. Wastewater data is a complement to clinical testing, and can help public health officials make decisions based on a holistic picture of an area.
A research team from the University of Michigan created a symptom checklist app to help people monitor their health and screen employees of more than 2,500 businesses before they enter the workplace each day. More than 16,000 Michiganders use the app on a daily basis, helping their employers adhere to public health guidance around in-person work and build a database of information to identify the locations of new outbreaks earlier. If a user logs symptoms consistent with COVID-19, they are encouraged to be tested for the virus and observe proper public health measure
University of Nebraska
Researchers at the University of Nebraska, together with Florida State University, are studying the social, health, and mortality effects of the COVID-19 pandemic in older marginalized populations. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on both older adults and communities of color, and the study found the death rate from the virus for Black adults over the age of 65 is three times higher than their white counterparts and two times higher for Latinx people. The research points to structural racism as a primary driving force in the health outcome disparities.
Virologists at the University of Nebraska are developing a potential vaccine framework that could be stronger and longer-lasting than other vaccines. Utilizing a protein called ferritin, the researchers are ramping up the number of vaccine antigens delivered to a recipient to block SARS-CoV-2’s ability to enter and replicate in host cells. A potential ferritin-based vaccine would stimulate a more robust response against the virus and could be delivered in one shot.
University of Notre Dame
The Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics research center at the University of Notre Dame boosted funding streams to enable researchers to pivot or expand the scope of their work to address COVID-19 related issues. The move is helping scientists like Professors Merlin Bruening and Jacqueline Linnes in their research on developing tools to quantify the COVID-19 immune response, originally funded by the National Science Foundation. With additional resources, they will investigate how those tools could be used to identify infected patients and shed light on how infections spread.
Researchers at the University of Notre Dame are working to make mobile contact tracing apps more secure. In an effort to prevent sensitive health information from being shared, or the platform itself being used to distribute false information, the team is designing an encrypted framework for mobile contact tracing. The framework, which limits in-app tracking while still providing relevant information to public health officials, could help curb the spread of COVID-19 and create a more effective and efficient way to reach users in future public health crises.
University of Oregon
Researchers at the University of Oregon are studying why COVID-19 disproportionately affects patients with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity. Building on research which examines the links to disease in the human genome, the team is working to understand how proteins which act as receptors to coronavirus could be impaired in people with pre-existing conditions. With funding from the National Institutes of Health, the study could lead to the development of therapies targeted at reducing comorbidities.
A professor at the University of Oregon is examining how COVID-19 has contributed to feelings of isolation among families with children with developmental disabilities, including autism. Her initial findings indicate families experienced exponentially higher levels of stress as they took on caregiving responsibilities usually covered by therapists and teachers. Supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the research suggests a looming strain on educators as demand for their time and attention increases post-pandemic, and makes a strong case for preventative measures and support to offset learning gaps.
University of Pennsylvania
Researchers at the University of Pennsylvania created a paper-based, smartphone compatible sensor that could detect the presence of COVID-19 particles in a patient’s saliva with nearly 100 percent accuracy. The test uses a chip to detects the chemical information from the virus’s protein spikes, delivering results in as little as four minutes. Made from cardboard, the technology is easy to produce and could generate billions of tests. preventing the spread of COVID-19 through asymptomatic individuals.
University of Pennsylvania researchers are working to train dogs to sniff out COVID-19 in affected people. Previous research has shown that viral infections cause the human body to let off distinctive compounds, which dogs are able to detect. If reliably accurate, this new method of detection could help low-income countries affordably expand their testing resources and screen attendees at large scale events to ensure the crowd’s safety. Already, dogs at one airport sniffed out 158 infected would-be passengers, which was confirmed through approved COVID-19 tests.
University of Rochester
A new sensor developed by researchers at the University of Rochester can detect exposure to multiple viruses, including COVID-19, from a single drop of blood in under a minute. It’s the latest step in a project funded by the Department of Defense to create diagnostic technology to combat COVID-19 and provide clinicians with data on previous infections and potential immunity. If the sensors are approved for production, it could create a pathway for diagnostic technology to be used in doctor’s office and pharmacies even after the pandemic is over.
A University of Rochester study found states with more vapers had larger numbers of daily COVID-19 cases and deaths. It points to a growing body of evidence that suggests vaping increases the risk of contracting the virus and plays a notable role in spreading it to others. The Rochester research also found that education level impacted the number of infections; states with higher coronavirus rates were also home to more people without high school diplomas. The information may help shape messaging about the dangers of vaping and good public health behaviors.
University of Washington
Researchers at the University of Washington are working to develop a new method to test for COVID-19 in sewage. By examining wastewater in manholes and neighborhood pump stations, the team is able to quantify how many people within a community have the virus and reserve testing resources for those with the greatest need. As people receive vaccines, they can use the same method in the future to test their effectiveness and detect cases early.
A University of Washington study found 75 percent of U.S. workers are unable to work from home to some degree and almost one fifth of them are in jobs that primarily involve interacting with the public. These occupations also tend to be lower paid, meaning ongoing shutdowns due to the COVID-19 pandemic have put the lowest paid workers at the greatest health and financial risk. The study calls for emergency measures to be put in place to improve physical and mental health outcomes for these groups.
University of Wisconsin-Madison
Researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison created a tool to assist public health officials in equitably prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine distribution. By analyzing a person’s age and socioeconomic status, the tool helps to identify those at greater risk for severe complications or death from COVID-19 and who should be put at the front of the line. Until vaccine supplies catch up to demand, an objective algorithm may be the most efficient and effective way to reduce the overall risk of COVID-19 and ensure vaccines reach the right people at the right time.
In sequencing the genome of SARS-CoV-2, researchers at the University of Wisconsin found the virus reflects patterns of geographic mixing across the state. Whereas different strains of the virus were relatively isolated in the early months of the pandemic, aided by stay-at-home orders, the change over time demonstrates how and where it has spread in Wisconsin. Using genetic sequencing to understand patterns in transmission could help inform more nuanced public health responses across the state.
Washington State University
A team of researchers at Washington State University developed an algorithm which optimizes the distribution of vaccines, potentially reducing the number of infected people in a population by three to seven times. Unlike other computer science approaches to public health efforts, this one provides a network view of a population on the move. While the algorithm cannot yet account for hundreds of thousands of people at one time, it is an important first step in developing a high capacity tool. The project was supported through funding from the Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and National Institutes of Health.
Researchers at Washington State University launched a tool for tracking COVID-19 spikes in rural areas across the U.S. Known as the COVID Urban Rural Explorer (CURE), the tracker uses county-by-county data to highlight rural urban disparities in COVID-19 trends and provides the team with a daily status report. Eventually, CURE could help communities gain earlier insight into COVID-19 case spikes and ultimately reduce and prevent cases.
Wayne State University
Researchers from Wayne State University’s College of Engineering and the Henry Ford Health System teamed up to create a COVID-19 risk-prediction system. With support from the National Science Foundation, the project would allow people to check their risk of infection when they leave their homes through a mobile app. The system factors in information including GPS location, local events, and input from the user to help them in making informed choices to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and assist government in assessing infections in their jurisdictions.
A team of Wayne State University researchers conducted an analysis of specific industry characteristics to guide their openings in a way that minimizes the risks of COVID-19 and maximizes economic benefits. With the right strategy to prevent COVID-19 cases from spreading further, both businesses and employees can get back to work safely and reverse some of the economic damage brought on by COVID-19.
West Virginia University
In partnership with the Centers for Disease Control, a study conducted by West Virginia University examined mask-wearing behaviors of people within the WVU community. Young adults have been identified as a driving force in the spread of COVID-19 infections, and in the first week of observation, the researchers found that while 85.1 percent of people wore masks, 84 percent of them wore them incorrectly. The team will use this information to increase trainings around COVID-19 mitigation efforts and the importance of proper mask-wearing.
With a funding grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), a team of researchers at West Virginia University will lead an eight-state consortium to broaden the National COVID Cohort Collaborative. The member states will provide patient registry data to create a large, granular dataset from which patient outcomes from various treatments can be assessed. The eight states selected to participate represent a cross section of patients varying in age, weight, socioeconomic status, and health care access. The resource will provide critical insights to curate personalized, lifesaving care protocols as NIH works to develop treatment regimens for COVID-19 across patient populations.
Yale researchers developed SalivaDirect, a quick and affordable saliva-based test for COVID-19 which is less invasive than other options. Saliva is easy to collect and labs can easily process the samples, driving down testing times and costs, and making tests more widely accessible. Players and staff from the National Basketball Association joined in the study, providing saliva samples to the research team. SalivaDirect was granted emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
Researchers at Yale are beginning a clinical trial to test the effectiveness of ibudilast, a drug used to manage asthma, in treating acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a serious complication some COVID-19 patients develop. Already showing promise in early studies, ibudilast would be administered to patients with COVID-19 pneumonia before they develop ARDS. Patients with ARDS have shown poor health outcomes, so it is key doctors that are able to work proactively to reduce inflammation and fluid buildup in the body to mitigate its progression.