In the news / Infectious Disease

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The BIO5 Institute solicited COVID-19 research proposals for seed grants supplied by the Technology and Research Initiative Fund (TRIF).

 
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As of April 28, more than 6,500 COVID-19 cases have been reported in the state of Arizona.

 
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The University of Arizona will soon begin analyzing blood samples from hundreds of thousands of Arizonans to determine who has been exposed to the virus that causes COVID-19 and developed antibodies against it. The first phase of testing will begin April 30 in Pima County and will include 3,000 health care workers and first responders.
 
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Right now, the attention of the United States and the world is focused on the global COVID-19 pandemic. However, as summer and the monsoon season approach, those in Arizona and other parts of the Southwest will have another respiratory illness to contend with – valley fever. Dr. John Galgiani, director of the UArizona Valley Fever Center and BIO5 faculty member, discusses the similarities and differences of COVID-19 and valley fever, as well as the risks of contracting both at the same time.
 
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To address the critical need of local COVID-19 data, a collaboration of researchers from UArizona Health Sciences & The Data Science Institute including BIO5’s Nirav Merchant, launched a 2-way texting system to gather valuable info to track the virus in Arizona. The application will assist with identifying areas where resources are needed.
 
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Black scientists across the country are a critical part of the global response to fighting the COVID-19 virus through their research initiatives. One of which is UArizona Immunobiologist and BIO5 member Dr. Michael Johnson, who is investigating if copper could be used to alter the binding of the virus that causes COVID-19. Copper could potentially block the virus from being able to access zinc and stop coronavirus from entering our cells or replicating once it is inside.
 
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Along with a fellow virologist, Dr. Felicia Goodrum, a UArizona Immunobiologist and BIO5 member, discusses the logic of continuing U.S. and state mandated shelter in place orders to mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Dr. Goodrum gives her recommendations for moving forward and her belief that as a nation, we must work to marshal protective resources, public health monitoring, and strong scientific and political leadership as we navigate this new normal.
 
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With $3.5 million in funding from the state, the University of Arizona is moving forward with plans to start producing blood tests to detect COVID-19 antibodies for the Arizona’s front-line workforce. The antibody tests build upon the work of UArizona Health Sciences researchers and BIO5 Institute members Dr. Janko Nikolich-Žugich, professor and head of the Department of Immunobiology, and Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya, associate professor of immunobiology. The tests will help determine how many people have been exposed to the novel coronavirus and have successfully built an immunity against it. Experts say as many as 50% of people who have been exposed to COVID-19 have experienced few to no symptoms of the disease.
 
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We all do better when we work together. Using cutting edge technology and big data analysis, the newly formed Arizona COVID-19 Genomics Union (ACGU) will track the virus’ evolution and transmission. Co-founded by UArizona Department of Ecology & Evolutionary Biology head and BIO5 associate director Dr. Michael Worobey, the cross-university collaboration between NAU, TGen and UArizona is another example of how our combined strength will provide solutions to better Arizona.
 
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A team of UArizona Health Sciences researchers is studying whether or not certain copper-based chemical compounds could potentially stop the virus that causes COVID-19 dead in its tracks. The lab of Dr. Michael Johnson uses chemical compounds that deliver copper to disease-causing bacteria like Streptococcus pneumoniae and MRSA. The copper kills them. Building on the new COVID-19 findings, Dr. Johnson elicited the help of additional UArizona researchers including Drs. Koenraad Van Doorslaer, Wei Wang, and Elisa Tomat, to assist in the study as to whether or not these same compounds could block SARS-CoV-2 from even entering human cells or hinder their ability to replicate once they do.
 
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University of Arizona researchers have begun using a test that can detect the presence of the COVID-19 virus in a person who has no obvious symptoms and possibly determine whether someone was once infected with COVID-19. By studying the antibodies present in a person's blood, the two lead researchers, UA immunologists Dr. Deepta Bhattacharya and Dr. Janko Nikolich-Zugich, hope to answer questions such as what unique antibodies are important to fight the novel coronavirus, how much of the population already had it and recovered or showed no symptoms, and whether it's possible to get reinfected with the virus.
 
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Researchers at the University of Arizona College of Medicine – Tucson have invented a new respiratory-assist device, or RAD, that provides fast, safe relief to those who experience difficulty breathing. Dr. Sairam Parthasarathy, professor of medicine and chief of the UArizona Division of Pulmonary, Allergy, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, and Dr. Marvin Slepian, Regents Professor of Medicine and director of the UArizona Center for Accelerated Biomedical Innovation, created the new device: a small-scale, low-pressure heliox rebreathing system that simultaneously removes carbon dioxide while appropriately adjusting for humidity as it recirculates gasses in a closed system. To battle one of the major complications of COVID-19, inflammation in the respiratory tract and lungs that can lead to life-threatening pneumonia, the fast and safe application of a RAD can make the difference between life and death.
 
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Researchers in the University of Arizona College of Agriculture and Life Sciences are working to produce much-needed hand sanitizer for health care workers in Southern Arizona hospitals. “With the goal of keeping our laboratory personnel safe, and also to do our part in ‘flattening the curve,’ we rapidly scaled down our ongoing research projects on bacterial infectious diseases,” said Gayatri Vedantam, an associate professor in the School of Animal and Comparative Biomedical Sciences and a BIO5 Institute member. “At the same time, our entire group came to the realization that stepping back was not aligned with what we do as scientists.”
 
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Copper can kill viruses and other germs by disrupting the protective layers of the organisms and interfering with its vital processes. Believe it or not, the use of copper for health purposes dates all the way back to Ancient Egypt, and scientists today including UArizona Immunobiology assistant professor BIO5 faculty Dr. Michael D L Johnson, and are still learning about the amazing benefits of copper.
 
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UArizona researchers and staff at all levels are working to assemble COVID-19 collection kits. Led by Dr. David T Harris, Arizona Health Sciences Biorepository executive director, UArizona Department of Immunobiology professor, and BIO5 faculty member, research staff had begun producing the kits over the weekend, ultimately assembling more than 1,600 kits. Dr. Harris said that while assembling the collection kits is fairly easy, it's finding the materials for those kits that's the difficult part. Despite already making nearly 2,000 of these collection kits over the weekend, Dr. Harris said staff aim to assemble 10,000 over the next two weeks.
 
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Dr. Felicia Goodrum Sterling, Immunobiology professor with UArizona College of Medicine-Tucson and BIO5 faculty, discusses the COVID -19 epidemic including our ability and responsibility to protect our community and those most vulnerable. Relatively simple non-pharmaceutical interventions have been effective in limiting infectious disease. These include: washing your hands, covering coughs and sneezes, staying home when sick, disinfecting common areas and surfaces, and social distancing (e.g. avoiding handshakes).
 
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UArizona Health, Campus Health, Banner Health and the Pima County Health Department held a panel discussion to provide preventative measures and information on the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak. Panelists, including UArizona Distinguished Professor, Confucius Institute Director, and BIO5 member Dr. Zhao Chen, encouraged the public to spread facts, not fear; practice compassion; and wash their hands.
 
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Early studies show that infection with Toxoplasma gondii may have unexpectedly protective effects in mouse models of Alzheimer's disease. Dr. Anita Koshy, UArizona associate professor of Neurology and BIO5 member, studies how the self-defense mechanisms the infection uses to survive in its host could one day be used to treat human illness.