The COVID-19 Research Symposium was held on Oct. 28, and highlighted SARS-CoV-2 research and clinical trials. Speakers discussed topics related to research since the onset of COVID-19, including global vaccine development, basic science surrounding COVID-19, the NIH, therapeutics, and population health. The symposium was open to all trainees, faculty, and staff at UAB, and special guests by invitation.
The symposium kicked off with opening remarks by Ray Watts, M.D., president of UAB, and Tika Benveniste, Ph.D., senior vice dean for Basic Sciences, who co-organized the event.
The first section of the symposium was a monumental keynote address by Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, who was welcomed and introduced by his colleague—and UAB’s very own—Michael Saag, M.D., associate dean for Global Health.
From there, the symposium was categorized into four sessions: Immunologic Aspects of COVID-19, Optimizing Diagnosis and Treatment, Basic Science Discovery, and COVID-19 and Health Disparities.
Tika Benveniste, Ph.D., moderated the first session, which featured presentations by Frances Lund, Ph.D., Charles H. McCauley Professor and Chair in the Department of Microbiology. Lund’s presentation discussed immune responses to SARS-CoV-2 infection, as well as vaccination. Paul Goepfert, M.D., director of the Alabama Vaccine Research Clinic and professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, also presented in this session. He shared information on immunology as well, in a presentation titled “SARS-CoV-2-specific Peripheral T Follicular Helper Cells Increase during Convalescence.”
The second session, Optimizing Diagnosis and Treatment, was moderated by Jeanne Marrazzo, M.D., director of the Division of Infectious Diseases. Here, Nathan Erdmann, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases, presented on the COVID-19 clinical trials taking place at UAB, and how UAB has responded to the global pandemic. Following Erdmann was Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D, director of the Clinical Microbiology Fungal Reference Laboratory, and assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, whose presentation was titled “Optimization of SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing Throughput and Prognostic Significance.”
The third session, Basic Science Discovery, was moderated by Kent Keyser, Ph.D., associate vice president for Research at UAB. Kevin Harrod, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, presented first and discussed screening approaches for antiviral interventions against COVID-19. Then, Steve Rowe, M.D., MSPH, director of the Gregory Fleming James Cystic Fibrosis Research, discussed animal model infections in his presentation titled, “SARS-CoV-2 Infection in a Ferret Model of Chronic Bronchitis.”
The fourth session, moderated by Andrew B. Crouse, Ph.D., director of Research and Operations at the Precision Medicine Institute, featured talks by Mona Fouad, M.D., MPH, senior associate dean of Diversity and Inclusion, as well as Selwyn Vickers, M.D., FACS, senior vice president for Medicine at UAB and dean of the School of Medicine. Fouad presented on testing models among underserved populations in Alabama, and discussed UAB’s efforts in engaging testing across multiple demographics and health disparities. Similarly, Vickers presented on the significant impact of COVID-19 on chronic health disparities—in Birmingham and beyond.
The symposium concluded with the second keynote address, given by Kathleen Neuzil, M.D., director for the Center for Vaccine Development and professor in the Departments of Medicine and Pediatrics at the University of Maryland, School of Medicine. Neuzil gave an outstanding overview on the current status of national COVID-19 vaccines in her presentation.
Overall, the symposium was highly successful and highlighted the remarkable work and progress of UAB research teams. UAB has made a footprint in SARS-CoV-2 research and clinical trials, and continues to pioneer the way nationally for effective treatments.
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