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COVID-related Pilot Projects Are Selected for Research Funding

July 01, 2020
by Robert Forman

Three pilot projects to investigate aspects of the current pandemic have received funding from Yale’s COVID-19 Research Resource Fund, which was built with generous contributions from Yale’s donors. All are joint efforts by scientists from different disciplines, chosen as part of an effort to actively address the pandemic from multiple vantage points, and provide opportunities to collaborate across the traditional boundaries of the university. The pilot project opportunity was launched by CoReCT (the COVID-19 Response Coordination Team), a group of leaders and staff from across Yale formed in March by School of Medicine Dean Nancy J. Brown, MD, to facilitate unprecedented collaboration to battle COVID.

These and 44 other proposals came from faculty at all ranks and from a wide range of Yale departments including many from the School of Medicine as well as the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, and the schools of Architecture, Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Environment, Law, Management, Nursing, and Public Health.

Jordan Peccia, PhD, Thomas E. Golden Jr. Professor of Environmental Engineering and associate professor of chemical engineering, and Nathan Grubaugh, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology (microbial diseases) in Yale School of Public Health, are collaborating on a project called “SARS-CoV-2 concentration and genomic diversity in wastewater as a leading indicator of COVID-19 outbreak dynamics.” Since March, Peccia has led a research team that collects samples from wastewater sites in New Haven, and examines them for the presence of SARS-CoV-2 RNA in the waste, in order to develop a tool for tracking the epidemiology of the COVID-19 outbreak in the broader New Haven population. Grubaugh has been using advanced tools to trace the spread of the virus around the world, and will now employ genomic epidemiology to obtain similarly useful information from these local specimens. They will share their results on their website.

Karen S. Anderson, PhD, professor of pharmacology and of molecular biophysics and biochemistry, and William L. Jorgensen, PhD, Sterling Professor of Chemistry, will apply their complementary expertise toward developing “A Computational Approach for Discovering Novel SARS2 protease Inhibitors.” Computer analysis of known drugs has provided a starting point for design of analogs that are being synthesized, tested, and optimized using structural biology to provide new therapies to combat COVID-19.

“Development of a genomic toolset to expedite basic and applied research on SARS-CoV-2” is a collaboration between Brett Lindenbach, PhD, associate professor of microbial pathogenesis and of comparative medicine, an expert on (+)-strand RNA viruses, including several that affect human health; and Farren Isaacs, PhD, associate professor of molecular, cellular, and developmental biology and biomedical engineering at the Systems Biology Institute. Isaacs’ lab is focused on developing foundational genomic and biomolecular engineering technologies to understand and engineer biological systems. This pilot project seeks to deploy cutting-edge genome engineering technologies to dissect viral replication machinery and fast-track drug discovery for COVID-19.

Submitted by Robert Forman on July 01, 2020