National Jewish Health is very well positioned to conduct research on the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the disease it causes, COVID-19. National Jewish Health is a world leader in research on all facets of lung function, disease and health as well as inflammation and immune function. We have several COVID-19 research initiatives in planning stages and some already up and running. Below are a few of the project our researchers are working on.
A major question for both clinical and basic researchers is what causes such a wide range of severity – from asymptomatic to deadly – of COVID-19.
The Center for Genes, Environment & Health collaborated with the Advanced Diagnostics (ADx) Microbiology and Clinical Laboratories to develop rapid molecular testing for the SARS-CoV-2 virus and antibody tests for the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which could show who has been infected, mounted an immune response and may have immunity.
National Jewish Health pulmonologist and researcher Robert Mason, MD, describes course of a SARS-CoV-2 infection from the perspective of a cell biologist in the European Respiratory Journal. Infections limited to the upper airways are likely to be mild. When the infection spreads to cells in the alveoli, deep in the lung, severe disease is likely to occur. Full paper available.
A research team of Drs. Mike Wechsler, Russ Bowler, Barry Make and Hong Wei Chu are planning studies of the virus’s effects on asthma and COPD as well as on the youth who are vaping, and in patients who have Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome.
Researcher Max Seibold, PhD, and his colleagues have also reported results of genetic studies evaluating the potential risk that asthma patients face of SARS-CoV-2 infections and severe COVID-19. They looked at expression patterns of ACE2 and TMPRSS2 genes, which are involved in SARS-CoV-2 entry into cells. High expression of those genes suggests higher risk. Overall, there appeared to be no difference between healthy patients and those with asthma in the expression of these genes. Among asthma patients, however, African Americans, males and those with diabetes showed higher expression of the ACE2 and TMPRSS2 genes. Those taking inhaled corticosteroids had lower expression of those genes. Read the abstract.
Kara Mould, MD, received a Boettcher Foundation COVID-19 Research Grant. Dr. Mould will leverage a non-bronchoscopic lavage technique to collect samples from patients with COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), as well as those with non-COVID ARDS, in order to construct a time course of inflammatory responses. She will then correlate them with presence of leukocytes and inflammatory mediators in the circulating blood. This study will provide the first-ever, time-resolved assessment of inflammatory responses in COVID-19 and non-COVID ARDS.
Investigators at National Jewish Health in collaboration with our colleagues at Colorado State University, Kaiser Permanente health outcomes, SCL health, and University of Colorado continue to develop novel ideas and approaches to the diagnosis and treatment of patients infected with SARS CoV2.
Drs. Jeff Kern, Bill Janssen, Jay Finigan, Tasha Fingerlin, Reeti Khare, Ron Harbeck, and others are participating in clinical research studies of novel drug treatments and the utility of blood serum from convalescent COVID-19 patients in treatment of the most critically ill of the SARS CoV2-infected patients.
On the clinical front, we have three trials at Saint Joseph Hospital underway. We are leading one trial at Saint Joseph Hospital that is evaluating the effectiveness of the medication sarilumab, a drug that inhibits IL-6 signaling. IL-6 is a pro-inflammatory cytokine that is elevated in COVID-19 and believed to contribute to the severity of illness.
Two clinical trials will evaluate the anti-viral medication, remdesivir, which was developed in response to the SARS and MERS outbreaks, but never reached clinical trials. Remdesivir will be evaluated in moderate and severe COVID-19 cases.
National Jewish Health is also participating in a consortium that includes SCL Health, the University of Colorado Anschutz, and the Colorado State University to test and use purified anti-SARS-CoV2 antibodies isolated from convalescent serum to treat patients with severe COVID-19 disease.
We are also positioned to study and treat survivors and who develop chronic respiratory symptoms.
James Crapo, MD, and colleagues received a Boettcher Foundation COVID-19 Research Grant to investigate the effects of the novel drug, BMX-001 to determine if it could be a new therapy to reduce pulmonary injury, morbidity, and mortality from COVID-19 and other viruses that cause virus-associated acute respiratory distress syndrome.
Critical Care Section Chief Bill Janssen is arranging to collect blood and lung lavage fluid samples from COVID-19 patients in the three intensive care units National Jewish Health intensivists staff and manage. This will provide an exceptional chance to conduct basic investigations of the disease including biomarkers, gene expression, cell biology and many other basic biological factors of the disease.
Gongyi Zhang, has established an expression system that can express the receptor-binding domain and the entire SARS-CoV-2 spike protein. That protein is the “key” that binds to receptors on cell surfaces, which is thought to allow entry into cells and infection. He is raising monoclonal antibodies against these proteins, which could block the virus binding to human epithelial cells. Several researchers across the institution are using Dr. Zhang’s proteins to investigate many aspects of the viral function and human response to the virus.
Dr. Max Seibold is adapting an ongoing study of respiratory infections in asthma to investigations examining the role of the ACE2 receptor that binds SARS-CoV-2 and patients’ responses to other coronaviruses, which cause milder disease similar to the common cold.
Michael Strong and his group in the Center for Genes Environment & Health analyzed 50 coronavirus genomes from patients around the world to understand how the virus is evolving, and to identify potential targets for vaccines, medications and diagnosis.
Researchers at National Jewish Health and across the nation have launched a study to determine the incidence of coronavirus infection among U.S. children. National Jewish Health, led by Max A. Seibold, PhD, associate professor of Pediatrics and the Center for Genes, Environment and Health, will serve as the experimental and computational analysis center for the study. The study, known as Human Epidemiology and Response to SARS-CoV-2 (HEROS), funded by the National Institutes of Health, will identify new SARS-CoV-2 infections and COVID-19 illnesses among 2,000 children and their family members over a six-month period. It will help answer an important question about the role of children in the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic: Are children an important source for the spread of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19?
Learn more about COVID-19 and how it affects specific health conditions in these printable patient education materials.
Download COVID-19 Materials