Vanderbilt University Acquires Funds to Study Factors That Affect Coronavirus Severity

Vanderbilt University Medical Center (“VUMC”) was recently awarded a $3.7 million, two-year contract by the United States Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), to discover the bacterial and genetic factors that may grow the risk for critical illness and death from the coronavirus.

The investigation conducted by the center will find out how the severity of the coronavirus may be influenced by respiratory microbiome, which is the bacteria that is found in the airways of a patient, as well as the genetic makeup of a patient.

Researchers from VUMC stated in a report, which was published in February, that the virus that causes COVID-19, the SARS-CoV-2 virus, interacted with respiratory bacteria in ways that could possibly worsen the disease’s symptoms.

The project financed by the CDC will also find out the genetic sequence of SARS-CoV-2 that’s been isolated from nasal swabs gathered from 5,000 patients who are infected with the disease, to help discover the presence of any coronavirus variants. The researchers are hopeful that by understanding how these factors interact, they can forecast patients who are more likely to be unresponsive to antiviral treatments, such as antibody therapy, or those who could become gravely ill. Their final objective will be to translate improved diagnosis into better outcomes and more efficacious treatments.

Associate professor of Medicine Suman Das stated that the university’s medical center had numerous resources on infectious disease, virology and genomics, which made it the best facility to conduct this investigation.

Das and the medical director of the Molecular Infectious Diseases Laboratory Jonathan Schmitz are the co-principal investigators of this project while the scientific director of the VUMC Technologies for Advanced Genomics, Simon Mallal, is the project’s co-investigator.

The main resources include the center’s huge biobank, which is made up of more than 400,000 individual DNA samples as well as samples of other biological materials, MicroVU and BioVU. BioVU contains electronic health records that will allow researchers to study the differences in the genetic makeup of patients suffering from particular ailments, including the coronavirus. MicroVU contains respiratory specimens from coronavirus patients and more than 200 species of bacteria that have been linked to the center’s research data warehouse. The resource is run by the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational  Research and is co-directed by Maria Hadjifrangiskou and Jonathan Schmitz.

Christian Rosas-Salazar, Das and other colleagues have been studying interactions between the microbiome and respiratory viruses for a few years now. Their study, which was reported in the “Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology,” found that the SARS-CoV-2 infection’s viral load, the virus itself and how much of it is present impact the abundance of many bacteria in a patient’s airway.

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