Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, is involved in over 15 projects focused on COVID-19 infection due to the funding of his pilot project, “Optimization of SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing Throughput and Prognostic Significance.”

“Close collaboration with CCTS sequencing and bioinformatics experts during this pilot program has enabled us to identify prognostic markers in original diagnostic respiratory sample (AIM2),” he says.

This collaboration also led Leal’s team identifying one of the first UK variant strains (B.1.1.7) in Alabama and, now, they are working together to establish a statewide COVID-19 genome sequencing network to identify variants of public health significance.

AIM1 of his Urgent COVID-19 Clinical Research and Laboratory Research grant led to the $30 million CARES Act GuideSafe™ initiative, which is largely responsible for enabling a safe return to college campuses. It also enabled diagnostic testing expansion at UAB, facilitating resumption of UAB Hospital operations, campus sentinel testing, and rapid development of a diagnostic tests that detect both SARS-CoV-2 and Influenza.

On his work, Leal says, “This work identified a correlation between disease severity and IFN beta and RANTES protein levels in nasal swab samples taken at the time of initial diagnosis. Confirmation at the RNA level is ongoing and may enable future incorporation into RT-PCR diagnostic tests.”

AIM2 helped establish the State of AL COVID-19 sequencing network. “AIM2 is still ongoing but has significant potential for incorporation of prognostic markers, like IFN beta, into diagnostic tests informing medical decisions based on the likelihood of progression to severe disease.”

Because of studies stemming from this pilot award, Leal aims to submit a K08 proposal on COVID secondary infections.