COLUMBUS, Ohio – Researchers at The Ohio State University College of Medicine and The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center have been awarded a five-year, $10 million grant from the National Cancer Institute in the National Institutes of Health to study the long-term, longitudinal impact of COVID-19 on first responders, healthcare workers and the general population.
“This is one of the largest grants ever awarded to the College of Medicine,” said Peter Mohler, chief scientific officer for Ohio State Wexner Medical Center and vice dean for research for the Ohio State College of Medicine. It will fund the Center for Serological Testing to Improve Outcomes from Pandemic COVID-19 (STOP-COVID) at Ohio State, a new Serological Sciences Center of Excellence.
With this funding, researchers will learn more about the interactions among exposure risks, transmission, immune responses, disease severity, protection and barriers to testing/vaccination, with the goal of improving population health and clinical outcomes in the face of COVID-19.
“The Center to STOP-COVID will address some of the biggest questions in the field, such as ‘Can people be re-infected with COVID-19 once positive? Why are some people more at risk for being infected and symptomatic? Does infection with closely related viruses provide immunity or worsen COVID-19 disease outcomes?’ This whole scientific platform is based directly on the data our researchers collected during the earliest days of the pandemic, in March and early April,” Mohler said.
The Center to STOP-COVID will utilize state-of-the-art serological and molecular tests, developed at Ohio State, in a long-term study of first responders, a group at continual high risk of the specific coronavirus that causes COVID-19, as well as their household contacts. It is projected that nearly 2,000 participants will be followed over the five-year period.
“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 will require research that cross-cuts basic, translational and applied sciences,” said Eugene Oltz, chair of the Department of Microbial Infection and Immunity at the College of Medicine and lead co-principal investigator for this study.
Joining Oltz as co-principal investigators of the Center to STOP-COVID are Dr. Ashish R. Panchal, a professor of Emergency Medicine, who specializes in prehospital care at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center; Linda J. Saif, a world-renowned expert on coronaviruses at Ohio State’s College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences and College of Veterinary Medicine, and Ann Scheck McAlearney, a professor of Family and Community Medicine at Ohio State University, as well as the executive director of Ohio State’s CATALYST, the Center for the Advancement of Team Science, Analytics and Systems Thinking in Health Services and Implementation Science Research, with expertise in population health and applied health services research.
To accomplish these ambitious goals, the Center is partnering with the Columbus Police Department and Columbus Division of Fire, collaborations that were forged by Dr. Daniel Bachmann, associate professor of Emergency Medicine and Gerard Lozanski, professor of pathology, both at Ohio State Wexner Medical Center; Iris Velasco, industrial hygienist with Columbus Police; and Dr. Robert Lowe, Medical Director with Columbus Division of Fire. Center co-investigators include 46 interdisciplinary team members throughout five colleges across The Ohio State University.
Researchers will learn more about critical aspects of transmission in both asymptomatic and symptomatic individuals; immune, host, and viral determinants of disease outcome; and factors associated with immune protection, including vaccines. Importantly, they will identify best practices for communication of test results and information about COVID-19 to improve understanding of risk, transmission and protection, while reducing access barriers to testing and future vaccination opportunities.
“We’re excited to establish this important STOP-COVID Center. We’ll also integrate our Center with the broader SeroNet community, consisting of National Cancer Institute testing agencies and other recipients of these grants. This will be invaluable in keeping abreast of current COVID-19 research,” said Oltz, who is also a member of the Cancer Biology research program at The Ohio State University Comprehensive Cancer Center – Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital and Richard J. Solove Research Institute.
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