August 31, 2020

Second round of urgent COVID-19 research launches

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As the fall semester across The University of Alabama System began under unprecedented circumstances, UAB and the School of Medicine continue to be on the forefront of confronting the COVID-19 crisis. In addition to the launch of the GuideSafeTM higher education reentry platform, which numerous leaders and experts across UAB Medicine and UAB played key roles in bringing to fruition, this month we are celebrating the launch of a second round of urgent, high-impact COVID-19 research, thanks to the generosity of Alabama’s business community and the ingenuity and expertise of our researchers.

Ten new pilot projects—funded by $402,000 in donations—began Aug. 1. The projects will last six months and were selected for their high probability of having an impact on the COVID-19 crisis within weeks or months. Seventy-six applications were received, showcasing the continuing commitment of UAB’s faculty to combatting COVID-19.

The first round of studies funded by the Urgent COVID-19 Clinical Research and Laboratory Research Fund launched May 1, after the Birmingham and Montgomery business communities raised $1.1 million in 20 days in March and April. Part of that money helped fund this second round of projects. Preliminary data from these pilots will form the basis for new grants and contracts, including pursuit of the $2 billion COVID-19 grant support being offered by the National Institutes of Health. Titles of the funded grants include:

  • Clonal diversity of human antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 S-protein.
  • Glucocorticoid treatment of COVID-19 cytokine storm syndrome.
  • Therapeutics targeting COVID-19 entry into pulmonary epithelial cells.
  • Immunotyping COVID-related acute respiratory distress syndrome.
  • Circulating microbiota and microbial endotoxin drive uncontrolled immune activation of blood monocytes in COVID-19.
  • Development of a tri-specific neutralizing antibody for the treatment of SARS-CoV-2 infection.
  • Individual- and area-level risk factors for COVID-19 disparities in the Deep South.
  • Exploratory study of the effect of tranexamic acid treatment on the progression of COVID-19 in outpatients.
  • Molecular mechanisms underlying the pathogenesis of acute respiratory distress syndrome in critically ill SARS-CoV-2-infected patients.
  • Neutrophils as a driving mechanism of acute respiratory distress syndrome and death in COVID-19 patients.

The projects’ principal investigators and co-investigators come from across the School of Medicine, as well as an investigator from the School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology. School of Medicine departments represented include:

  • The Department of Medicine and the Divisions of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine; Gerontology and Geriatric Medicine; Infectious Diseases; Gastroenterology; Preventive Medicine; and General Internal Medicine.
  • The Department of Pediatrics and the Divisions of Pediatric Rheumatology and Pediatric Pulmonary and Sleep Medicine.
  • The Departments of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine; Radiology; Cell, Developmental and Integrative Biology; Microbiology; and Pathology.
Please join me in congratulating these investigators and wishing them success in their research. As their projects demonstrate, our School of Medicine will continue to adapt and innovate across all our mission areas until the COVID-19 pandemic has been defeated.

Lastly, I'd like to offer an update on my July Dean's Message, "Alzheimer’s and dementia, a growing challenge." In that message, I discussed our outstanding Alzheimer's care and research programs. I'm very excited to share that we have received the notice of award (P20) from the National Institutes of Health for the UAB Alzheimer's Disease Center (ADC). Dr. Erik Roberson, director of the ADC, is the principal investigator and led this effort. This has been a goal for our Alzheimer's Disease Center for more than 10 years and will enable us to initiate new research projects and expand the scope of existing programs, accelerating the pace of Alzheimer’s disease discovery at UAB. I congratulate all our faculty involved in the ADC on this momentous achievement.