COVID-19 Research Projects

Xu Yu:  In collaboration with Jon Li, the Yu lab has started a COVID-19 clinical study, collecting samples from COVID-19 patients to better understand disease progression. This includes banking of PBMC, plasma, serum, nasal swabs, and stool samples from COVID-19 patients, as well as those at high risk of developing the disease, for analysis and research. Yu has previously focused on understanding the development of HIV from analyzing clinical samples such as above, and her background in understanding infectious viral diseases has allowed her to swiftly transition into the study of COVID-19, enabled by a generous donation from Mark and Lisa Schwartz. To date, over 100 patients have been enrolled in this study. 

Galit Alter: Understanding the number of individuals that are exposed to COVID-19 and whether they develop immunity is key to managing the epidemic, bringing our front-line medical staff back to work, and guiding the end of quarantine and sheltering. The redirected efforts of the Alter lab are laser focused on: 1) designing assays to rapidly quantify the level of antibodies across populations and 2) applying deep antibody profiling tools to define the mechanisms of immunity to guide therapeutic/vaccine development.

Pathogen specific antibodies typically mark the evolution of immunity, or antibody mediated protection. Days after infection by SARS-CoV-2, IgM antibodies evolve followed rapidly by the evolution of more affinity matured IgG/IgA. Emerging data suggest that antibodies may contribute both to protection and, in the case of too little or too many antibodies, pathology. Thus, tools are urgently needed to both quantify the presence of antibodies and their protective/pathological functions. One of the assays developed by the Alter lab has been selected by the governor of Massachusetts to help understand the COVID-19 outbreak in Massachusetts.

Galit’s work was highlighted in this short piece by NOVA PBS:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eW4ypjY_eXo&t=1s 

Aaron Schidmt: The Schmidt Lab is recombinantly expressing viral envelope glycoproteins from various coronaviruses (CoV), including the spike protein from SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. These proteins are produced in mammalian and insect cells, independent of the virus itself, and are then distributed to the scientific research community upon request for use in downstream assays (e.g., serology, diagnostics, biophysical). The Schmidt Lab used an existing PIBC protocol for protein expression and purification of recombinant viral glycoproteins, which allowed them to swiftly develop and produce the coronavirus glycoproteins needed by the larger scientific community. Currently, the Lingwood lab is providing back-up support for protein production and purification should the demand increase. 

Doug Kwon: The Kwon lab is studying SARS-CoV-2 burden and infectivity in the GI tract. COVID-19 is thought to primarily impact the respiratory system, however, emerging evidence suggests that infection in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract may significantly impact COVID-19 transmission and severity. These findings will help determine if GI infection is associated with worse disease and whether the virus could be spread through fecal-oral route, as has been reported for other coronaviruses. Additionally, in collaboration with the Yilmaz Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the lab is applying 3D organoid cultures of gut and lung cells to model SARS-CoV-2 infection in primary human tissues, and has developed a high-throughput screening that tests therapeutic compounds for efficacy against disease in primary lung and gut organs. This work will inform our efforts to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission, determine those who are at risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, and identify better ways to treat those who are infected.

Dan Barouch: The Barouch lab has developed a COVID-19 vaccine that is expected to be in clinical trials this fall. A steering committee member of the Ragon Institute, Barouch’s initial efforts were funded by a generous donation to the Ragon from Mark and Lisa Schwartz; clinical trials and production of the vaccine will be funded by Johnson and Johnson and the US Department of Health and Human Services. Barouch’s vaccine platform, which has been used to developed HIV and Zika vaccines currently in trials, uses an engineered version of adenovirus 26 (Ad26), a cause of the common cold, that can no longer replicate. 

Alejandro Balazs: The Balazs lab is developing neutraliziation assays for samples obtained from healthcare workers who have been infected by SARS-CoV-2.  Neutralization assays determine if antibodies developed in response to COVID-19 will keep the virus from replicating or infecting cells in the body. These assays, used in concert with the Alter lab assays, will help determine whether infected healthcare workers can safely return back to work, as well as increase understanding of the body’s response to COVID-19 infection. 

Collaborations: 

Galit Alter is collaborating closely with MGH Infectious Disease and Pathology, as well as the Broad, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard School of Public Health, and the front lines at the University of Washington. As part of the Massachusetts Consortium on Pathogen Readiness, Alter knows the way to defeat this pandemic is through collaborations and connections. 

Xu Yu is collaborating with Jonathon Li, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a faculty member in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital.

Doug Kwon is collaborating with the Yilmaz Lab at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 

Aaron Schmidt, along with Daniel Lingwood, is collaborating broadly across the Massachusetts scientific community. 

Dan Barouch developed his vaccine in collaboration with Janssen, the pharmaceutical arm of Johnson & Johnson.