GNL In the News

Coronavirus Research Top Priority for National Lab and UTMB

Mar 23, 2020, 14:50 PM by Connie Holubar

The focus on emerging infectious diseases in the Galveston National Laboratory means investigators in the lab were already working with coronaviruses, including SARS and MERS when the latest virus emerged.

Over the last several weeks, faculty throughout the UTMB enterprise have responded to this crisis and the high containment operations within the national lab and across campus have shifted their focus to initiate several different research efforts to find answers that will help the international science community respond to this global health threat. 

Dozens of UTMB faculty and their lab teams have jumped on important medical research studies to gain understanding of this virus and to develop vaccines, therapies and information that will help scientists around the world. 

There are currently numerous distinct projects underway. We will add to this list as new projects are approved and funding is available.  
  • UTMB’s World Reference Center for Emerging Viruses and Arboviruses is one of only two global repositories that is supplying COVID-19 viral RNA for diagnostic development and test validation to laboratories around the world. The reference center is also working on viral antigens and additional reagents for use in research.  The center, which holds more than 8,000 virus strains, is a critically important resource to the worldwide scientific community.
  • Initial studies to determine which cell lines can be used to propagate the SARS-CoV-2 and to understand the effect of interferon, one of the first immune responses, in controlling replication in people.
  • Development of a reverse genetic system to determine the effects of mutations that occur during the global SARS-CoV-2 spread, which may impact disease progression and transmission, and to speed vaccine and therapeutics development.
  • Development of reagents such as viral antigens and serologic assays for retrospective patient diagnosis and seroprevalence surveys to understand SARS-CoV-2 spread by persons without severe disease, and to evaluate new vaccine candidates.
  • Development of COVID-19 vaccine candidates using a wide variety of approaches including a new, rapid “plug-and-play” platform
  • Test the effectiveness of existing medications to suppress infection in cell cultures and discover new medications to treat COVID-19 infection.
  • Testing new monoclonal antibodies as therapeutics to treat COVID-19 patients.
  • Development of several animal models, including mice with human receptors, to reproduce human-like disease for vaccine and therapeutic evaluations and to understand the disease process.
  • Experiments using aged mice to to understand why older persons have a higher risk of severe, life-threatening disease.
  • Experiments to understand the contribution of smoking and vaping on risk for serious illness and death in COVID-19.
  • Development of vaccines and therapeutics to treat comorbid addiction and COVID-19.
  • Studies to understand how the virus replicates in human and animal cells and how the immune response contributes to both disease and recovery, and to compare these factors between the new SARS-CoV-2 and the 2003 SARS-CoV strain.
  • Testing of disinfection methods for use in medical facilities and research laboratories.
  • Studies to understand better how long the new coronavirus survives in small droplets and aerosols and how this survival impacts transmission.
  • Development of rapid new methods to determine the genetic sequence of the new coronavirus and identify the presence of defective interfering particles that may affect disease severity.
  • Development of a three dimensional artificial human lung model to study SARS-CoV-2 infection and disease.
  • Clinical trial of the antiviral drug Remdesivir to treat COVID-19 patients.