Steven Rowe, M.D., professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care and director of the Cystic Fibrosis Research Center, is working to develop animal models of COVID-19, something he has pioneered for cystic fibrosis in his project “A Ferret Model of COVID-19 Pathogenesis and Treatment."

Rowe’s study pursued the hypothesis that the SARS-CoV-2 infection could cause mucociliary dysfunction through the involvement of ciliated respiratory cells, and this could be modeled in certain animals to show severity. His work has shown that mucociliary dysfunction is in fact happening in animal models and may contribute to secondary infections observed in COVID-19.

Rowe says his laboratory has developed a method to monitor ciliated cell function in volunteers with COVID-19, are presently enrolling acutely ill patients, and seek to extend this to patients with sustained lung problems. If successful, this research could explain why some patients have sustained problems with respiratory infections.

Additionally, through studying animal models and cigarette smoke, he was able to observe smoking increased ACE2 expression, the functional receptor for SARS-CoV-2.

Based on preliminary data, Rowe received an additional competitive supplement to the R35 grant to pursue work in animal models.

Success in animal models has led to additional studies in humans with COVID-19.