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Sangster Weighs in on COVID-19 Vaccine, Antibodies

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

With millions of lives on the line, researchers have been working at an unprecedented pace to develop a COVID-19 vaccine.

But that speed—and some widely touted breakthroughs—belie the enormous complexity and potential risks involved. Researchers have an incomplete understanding of the coronavirus and are using technology that’s largely unproven.

Among many worries: A handful of studies on COVID-19 survivors suggest that antibodies—key immune system proteins that fight infection—begin to disappear within months. That’s led scientists to worry that the protection provided by vaccines could fade quickly as well. Some even question whether vaccines will really end the pandemic. If vaccines produce limited protection against infection, experts note, people will need to continue wearing masks and social distancing even after vaccines roll out.

People with severe symptoms from COVID-19 tend to have higher antibody levels than those with milder cases.

Some people fail to generate antibodies because they have compromised immune systems, said Mark Sangster, a research professor at the University of Rochester Medical Center.

Even when people do generate antibodies against the novel coronavirus, studies suggest the antibodies may not last long.

Read More: Sangster Weighs in on COVID-19 Vaccine, Antibodies

National Institute of Allergy and Infection Diseases Funding Awarded

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

NIAID is funding a CEIRS network wide COVID-19 and influenza Southern Hemisphere surveillance study, “Natural history of SARS-CoV-2 in comparison to influenza A virus: a multi-site study focused in the Southern Hemisphere and equatorial regions.” 

The New York Influenza Center of Excellence, at the University of Rochester, under the direction of Dr. David Topham, will receive just over $1M in funding. Dr. Topham’s lab has partnered with investigators in Australia and Vietnam to carry out the proposed research, which will include samples from Vietnam that will be shipped to Rochester for immune response analysis. The Australian samples will be analyzed at the WHO collaborating center for influenza located at the Doherty Institute in Melbourne. 

Together, the CEIRS Network offers a unified human surveillance effort designed to gather critical information on the spectrum of disease, risk factors, duration of viral shedding, viral genomics, viral dynamics within and between populations and innate and memory immune responses to infection. By targeting international locations where seasonality is muted or winter is just beginning, we will gain much-needed insight into the impact of the seasons on SARS-CoV-2 spread. We will furthermore capture co-circulation of SARS-CoV-2 with other respiratory viruses, including influenza viruses, allowing a valuable comparative approach to be taken in our clinical, virological and immunological analyses.

New URMC Coronavirus Research Examines Immune Response

Thursday, April 16, 2020

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) have launched a new study to understand how the body’s immune system responds to COVID-19, including if and when a person could be re-infected with the virus and whether some people have pre-existing immunity. The findings could have significant implications for the public health response to the pandemic, the development of COVID-19 vaccines, and decisions related to re-opening the economy and society.

This study was featured on 13WHAM.

The new coronavirus research is being led by David Topham, Ph.D., Angela Branche, M.D., and Ann Falsey, M.D., under the URMC New York Influenza Center of Excellence(NYICE), one of the five international centers in the Centers of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance network. The research is supported by approximately $5 million in funding from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the institute headed by Anthony Fauci, M.D.

“This research will seek to answer several important questions, including the durability of immunity from the virus once a person has been infected and recovered, whether the virus is mutating, whether previous exposure to other seasonal coronaviruses provides a degree of protection from COVID-19, and how long potential vaccines could provide immunity from the virus,” said Topham.

The study will recruit up to 100 COVID-19 positive individuals across all age groups from the Rochester community and follow them for 90 days. The researchers will collect samples that will enable them to isolate and study the virus, and measure immune response to the infection.

Specifically, it will track the production of antibodies that seek out and flag the virus for destruction by immune cells. Once produced in sufficient quantity, these antibodies and other cells generated by the immune system provide protection from re-infection. These cells are also activated after vaccination. However, as is the case with other viral infections such as the flu, it is speculated that immunity to COVID-19 will weaken over time.

This research builds on more than a decade of influenza and respiratory pathogens research by the NYICE. For the past 13 years, URMC researchers have been conducting surveillance studies in an effort to better understand the immune response to the flu and vaccination. At the request of NIAID, URMC researchers have retooled and expanded the influenza study to include on COVID-19.

Read More: New URMC Coronavirus Research Examines Immune Response

A Hopeful Antidote for COVID-19

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Stock image of a virus under high magnificationDr. Topham was featured in the Rochester Beacon today in the Health & Science section.

Good news is that an antiviral treatment effective against the new coronavirus could start to be available in as little as three months and could be tested on some local coronavirus patients even sooner. The bad news is that every other warning and caution against the potentially deadly virus still applies and will continue to apply for the foreseeable future.

There is more good news though. The antiviral is remdesivir, a drug that has previously been used to help combat Middle East Respiratory Syndrome, also known as MERS, and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS viral infections and is thus already produced, with some stockpiles available, and known to be safe.

The three-month timeline for remdesivir’s availability as an anti-corona virus agent is the informed projection of David Topham, a University of Rochester Medical Center virologist and immunologist whose local laboratory is one of five in New York State involved in researching COVID-19, the new coronavirus rapidly spreading to pandemic proportions. His lab is tied into a national and global network of researchers studying the disease.

Read More: A Hopeful Antidote for COVID-19