Coronavirus Research Updates
In addition to providing prevention and travel safety information to its statewide constituents and communities, the UT System is also leading the state of Tennessee in researching infectious diseases – including COVID-19 – and their prevention.
UT Health Science Center virologist Michael Whitt and UT Foundation fundraiser Greg Harris are working hard to further the holistic process of drug discovery in the fight against COVID-19 through innovative research and industry partnerships.
Three research projects targeting COVID-19 are now going on through the SimCenter at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
The projects are searching for methods to make detection of the virus simpler and also to find ways to combat it.
To date, over four million cases of COVID-19 have been confirmed worldwide. While promising developments for certain drugs used to treat the respiratory virus continue to emerge, there is currently no cure or widespread treatment plan available.
A team from UT and Oak Ridge National Lab (ORNL) led by Jeremy Smith is using ORNL’s IBM AC922 Summit supercomputer to identify promising compounds that may result in a drug to fight this disease.
The COVID-19 pandemic has prompted numerous efforts aimed at making sure medical personnel and first responders have the equipment they need to do their jobs effectively while staying protected from the disease.
One such initiative in Knoxville is East Tennessee Chinese/Chinese American Care (ETCCAC), a group co-founded by individuals from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville; Oak Ridge National Laboratory; and members of the local community to support local hospitals, first responders, senior living facilities, and the service industry.
Jasmine Pulliam and Mary Ferris are in the Master of Public Health program at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Along with athletic training students, undergraduate pre-med students and faculty in the Department of Health and Human Services, they’re touching base daily with people who have had contact with someone ill with coronavirus.
UT researchers in public health, economics, public policy, agriculture, and veterinary medicine have created Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19) to provide evidence-based information in response to questions from policy makers, industry leaders, and the public in Tennessee.
As more individuals seek to create home-made face masks to help slow the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19), Dr. Peter Tsai shares some additional thoughts on important elements to consider:
“Basically, any cloth barrier helps to prevent the spread of the droplets from an infected person and to intercept the droplets before entering a healthy person. A hydrophobic nonwoven layer such as shop towel made of PP or PET between two thin layers of fabric such as handkerchief or scarf is an ideal structure for a homemade mask…”
“Since the beginning of this crisis, UTHSC has been engaged,” Scott Strome, MD, executive dean of the College of Medicine, said in opening the session. As evidence, he pointed to UTHSC’s coronavirus resource website; the UTHSC/City of Memphis drive-thru testing site at the Mid-South Fairgrounds; ongoing research in the Regional Biocontainment Laboratory on treatments for the virus; and the new on-campus laboratory established to expand capacity and provide rapid analysis for COVID-19 testing.
Jon McCullers, MD, the senior executive associate dean of the College of Medicine, presented a “Memphis Roadmap” for dealing with the coronavirus.
The Coronavirus-19 Outbreak Response Experts (CORE-19) team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville is a network of researchers in public health, economics, public policy, agriculture, veterinary medicine, and other disciplines. The CORE-19 team provides timely and evidence-based information for policymakers, industry, and the public on pressing questions regarding the global pandemic.
This effort is being coordinated by The Howard H. Baker Jr. Center for Public Policy and the University’s Department of Public Health. Additional expertise is provided by the Institute for Public Service (IPS), the Institute of Agriculture (UTIA), the Boyd Center for Business and Economic Research, the Tennessee State Data Center, the Colleges of Law, Nursing, Social Work, and Veterinary Medicine, as well as the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics.
The University of Tennessee Health Science Center has opened a lab on campus to analyze COVID-19 test samples to help speed up diagnoses in the community. By next week, the lab in the Department of Pathology on the fifth floor of the 930 Madison Plaza Building is expected to be able to analyze up to 1,500 tests per day with a same-day, or at most 24-hour, turnaround time for results.
Medical masks and N95 respirator are widely used to protect against airborne diseases such as tuberculosis, SARS, MERS, avian and swine flues, and the recent emerging coronavirus (COVID-19). The filtration layer of these masks is made of meltblown (MB) PP (polypropylene) nonwoven electret – electrostatically charged media. There has been a dire shortage of face masks since the emerging of COVID-19 originated from Wuhan. Numerous erroneous news has been reported about the performance and the reuse to reduce the consumption of the face masks.
Peter P. Tsai is the inventor of the electrostatic charging technology that makes the filter media of face masks including medical and N95. Tsai is retired faculty, Joint Institute of Advanced Materials, The University of Tennessee.
The University of Tennessee at Martin, along with multiple Tennessee higher education institutions, has partnered with THEC and TEMA to create personal protective equipment for Tennessee COVID-19 relief aid. UT Martin has centralized all of the 3D-capable printers on campus into the Rogers Media Center and is currently printing headbands for medical face shields.
In labs across campus, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, faculty and staff are fabricating face-shield headbands and other personal protective gear for use by Tennessee medical professionals in the fight against COVID-19.
After reading news reports about shortages of personal protective equipment and laboratory supplies, Annette Engel, the Donald and Florence Jones Professor of Aqueous Geochemistry, and Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences lab manager Audrey Paterson contacted Brian Gard, director of emergency management at UT, to donate materials from previous projects in their interdisciplinary research lab in Strong Hall to health agencies in need.
As part of the university’s ongoing efforts to share vital coronavirus information and resources for our communities, UTHSC is hosting a free Coronavirus Online Symposium on April 6 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
The online Coronavirus Symposium includes speakers from UTHSC and university partners including Le Bonheur Children’s’ Hospital and the Shelby County Health Department. The free event will cover important topics as it relates to coronavirus and public health.
Researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have used Summit, the world’s most powerful and smartest supercomputer, to identify 77 small-molecule drug compounds that might warrant further study in the fight against the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus, which is responsible for the COVID-19 disease outbreak.
Jeremy C. Smith, Governor’s Chair at the University of Tennessee and director of the UT/ORNL Center for Molecular Biophysics, worked from the assumption that the two viruses may even “dock” to the cell in the same way. Team member and UT/ORNL CMB postdoctoral researcher Micholas Smith built a model of the coronavirus’ spike protein, also called the S-protein, based on early studies of the structure.
Leaders from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and its clinical and community partners convened a press conference Feb. 26 to share information about the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) and reassure the public that steps are being taken to prepare for and combat any possible spread of the illness.
Dr. Jon McCullers pointed to research being done at UTHSC’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory (RBL) under the leadership of Colleen Jonsson, PhD, professor and Endowed Van Vleet Chair of Excellence in Virology, as another contribution by the university to the global effort to combat Coronavirus. The RBL is one of 12 federally funded labs in the country designed to safely study dangerous pathogens. Dr. Jonsson and her team are studying COVID-19. “We have some very active research programs looking at Coronaviruses,” he said. “As we think about the national response and the international response to the virus, a lot of that will be informed by work being done at UTHSC.”