Sixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Laboratory Medicine, and Director, Clinical Microbiology, Fungal Reference Laboratory and Mycoplasma Laboratory, was recently awarded a grant from the School of Medicine to support research into COVID19 testing. Leal has been working since the outset of the pandemic to convert his labs into a COVID19 testing location.

Leal SixtoSixto Leal, M.D., Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Laboratory Medicine

Leal's proposal was titled, "Optimization of SARS-CoV-2 Diagnostic Testing Throughput and Prognostic Significance." It seeks to optimize the current assay to increase test capacity fourfold and include the detection of other viruses, such as flu and RSV on the differential diagnosis to speed the time to an accurate diagnosis for our patients and limit the need for unnecessary testing with expensive viral respiratory panels.

The second portion of this SOM COVID19 grant proposal is a collaboration with Drs. Mike Crowley and Elliot Lefkowitz, to sequence all of the RNA in diagnostic samples and determine their prognostic significance, so as to modify the test and be able on initial diagnosis to not only detect the virus but provide information on whether that patient is likely to overcome infection or require more intensive care. For example, in addition to detecting the virus, the test would also detect key markers associated with the immune response that can help determine how well the patient would do.

This grant totals $50,000 with payments starting May 1. It supports the purchase of two pieces of equipment: Automated RNA extraction equipment that can process 48 samples at a time (~50,000), plus associated kits (~20,000) and a second RT-PCR instrument (~25,000).

The School of Medicine partnered with the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute to fund 14 Principal Investigators an award to study various implications of COVID-19. Part of the funds, $350,000, were philanthropic gifts to the School of Medicine, and another $300,000 was funded by the Hugh Kaul Precision Medicine Institute. The average award was $46,000. There was a tremendous response to the RFA, with over 50 applications.

For a list of all the SOM grant award winners, visit: https://www.uab.edu/medicine/news/latest/item/2125-14-awarded-covid-19-research-grants