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Foundation Grant Expands SARS-CoV-2 Samples Tenfold

On March 19, 2020, Philip Mudd, MD, submitted a grant request to The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital for a large-scale clinical sample collection and processing program of SARS-CoV-2. At the time, the novel coronavirus had only infected approximately 200,000 patients worldwide, including just over 9,000 patients in the United States, and only six known cases in the St. Louis area. As the virus was in full force across China and Italy, Washington University researchers were working with four plasma samples provided by clinical researchers worldwide.

The goal was to collect 100 samples from patients who presented to Barnes-Jewish Hospital with symptoms consistent with COVID-19 disease with the expectation that half would test positive. If their projections were accurate, it would represent a tenfold expansion of patient samples available to researchers who were actively working on diagnostics, treatments and vaccines.

“We knew COVID-19 would soon be arriving at our doors, so we needed a collection infrastructure in place to provide the most useful samples and clinical information from these patients to the research teams on campus as quickly as possible” Dr. Mudd said.

With the large catchment area of the BJC Healthcare system and multiple teams across the research enterprise involved in the effort, Dr. Mudd knew there was a wealth of data that could be shared across the Departments of Medicine, Surgery, Pediatrics, Pathology and Immunology, Molecular Microbiology and Emergency Medicine.

“As physician-researchers, we know how expensive it can be to get new initiatives off the ground,” he said. “When we learned that the funding request had been approved, we immediately got to work.”

The funds requested from the Foundation ($250,540) provided the necessary clinical samples to support efforts across a cadre of research teams. The following are some of those projects with team leaders’ names in parentheses:

  • The analysis of peripheral blood mononuclear cells to isolate B-cells that generate antibodies against the SARS-CoV-2 virus (Ali Ellebedy, PhD, Pathology & Immunology)

  • The evaluation of monoclonal antibodies, along with serum and plasma samples, that specifically neutralize the virus in neutralization assays (Michael Diamond, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases)

  • The rapid testing of serum and urine samples to deploy a diagnostic and prognostic assay based on other infectious disease systems (Jeffrey Henderson, MD, PhD, Infectious Diseases)

  • The evaluation of a neutralization assay against the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein to create a model of SARS-CoV-2 that would be safer to handle and not require high-containment laboratories ( Sean Whelan, PhD, Molecular Microbiology), recently published in Cell Host and Microbe July 1st, and now developed into a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 Cell Host and Microbe July 30th)

Samples have been collected from more than 400 patients to date, and more than 80 percent of enrolled subjects have tested positive for COVID-19. Plans are in place to follow this patient cohort longitudinally for clinical outcomes and to obtain follow-up specimens to understand the clinical, genetic and immunologic features of SARS-CoV-2.

Since the beginning of this pandemic, the medical community has worked continuously to develop unique diagnostics and therapeutics to counter COVID-19.

“As physicians and as researchers, it is reassuring to know we have strong partners in philanthropy to move this work forward,” said Dr. Mudd. “We are grateful for the Foundation’s support, and the generosity of its donors to help us do our best work.”

To support BJC HealthCare's efforts to combat COVID-19, visit FoundationBarnesJewish.org/givecovid19

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