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WXXI Live Forum addresses COVID-19 vaccines:

Thursday, December 17, 2020

WXXI Live Forum LogoWXXI hosts a live, televised forum addressing COVID-19 vaccines.

Local experts on the latest COVID-19 vaccine research gathered for a live forum on WXXI-TV and radio Thursday night. Those on the panel said they see reason for hope, but they also caution it will take some time for the community to build up immunity to the virus.

Researchers on the program from the University of Rochester Medical Center included Dr. Angela Branche, co--director of the URMC Vaccine Trials and Evaluation Unit. Branche talked about the challenge to get past the mistrust that some people in the Black community have regarding medical research, when the vaccine becomes more widely available.

"And we're really going to have to work with our community partners, leaders and activists in the community who already have established trust with these groups that we're talking about and partnering with them and giving them educational tools and helping them deliver the message is really what's going to be the most effective," Branche said.

Monroe County's commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Michael Mendoza also sees a need to provide as much outreach and education to the community as possible about the vaccine. And he emphasized the need to continue following guidelines about wearing masks and physical distancing, because it will take a while to get most people inoculated.

"We have a vaccine on the ground, there are people who are getting the vaccine now, but the reality is that there is still so much time between now and when this is over."

Mendoza said that right now he is concerned about the rapidly increasing numbers of people being hospitalized and how that could impact health care in general in the Finger Lakes region.

Read More: WXXI Live Forum addresses COVID-19 vaccines:

New Institute Takes Aim at Infectious Pathogens, Builds Pipeline of Clinician Researchers

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

The University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC) has created a new institute that will strengthen and accelerate the study of viral, bacterial, and fungal pathogens. The Translational Immunology and Infectious Diseases Institute (TIIDI) will build upon decades of scientific research leadership in the human immune system, respiratory viruses, and vaccine development, and, more recently, the Medical Center's role in the national response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The new Institute -- which is led by David J. Topham, Ph.D., and was approved by the University of Rochester Board of Trustees last month -- will bring together multi-disciplinary teams of scientists and clinicians that will take the knowledge gained from basic research in immunology, microbiology, and virology and apply it to problems in human diseases caused by infectious pathogens. TIIDI will also strengthen education and training programs to build a pipeline that produces the next generation of adult and pediatric clinician-researchers in the field.

Researchers will study infectious diseases across several areas of medicine, including immunodeficiency, cancer, transplant, orthopedics, ophthalmology, dermatology, gastroenterology, autoimmunity, neonatology, and public health. TIIDI will focus on the development of new treatments and vaccines, and strategies to better control the spread of infectious diseases, such as HIV, respiratory pathogens, and hospital acquired infections. Researchers will also study the pathology of infectious diseases to better assess risk factors for severe outcomes and develop more effective early interventions.

Read More: New Institute Takes Aim at Infectious Pathogens, Builds Pipeline of Clinician Researchers

Dave Topham Spotlighted by Global Virus Network

Wednesday, November 4, 2020

What are you and your institution currently working on regarding COVID-19?

The Topham Lab launched a coronavirus research study to understand how the immune system responds to acute COVID-19 infection, including how long immunity lasts once a person has been infected and recovered. We have evidence of pre-existing cross-reactive memory B cells and Original Antigenic Sin in infected subjects. We are also collaborating with researchers at New York University and University of Idaho to examine whether mothers can transmit COVID-19 through breast milk (they don't) and whether the breast milk itself has immunological properties against the disease (it does). Funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the NIH, the study could result in critical guidance for current and soon-to-be mothers. Physicians at URMC and Rochester Regional Health are investigating a new coronavirus vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech. The URMC Vaccines and Treatments Evaluation Unit is testing Remdesivir combined with other drugs, as well as a Phase III clinical trial of the Astra Zeneca ChAdOX-1 SARS-CoV-2 vaccine. Rochester engineers and medical scientists are collaborating closely with clinicians to develop tests to detect coronavirus. Projects include (1) research on a finger-stick test to detect and study immunity to COVID-19; (2) the creation of tiny sensor chips that use coronavirus proteins to "very quickly" detect the presence of antibodies that help humans fight against the virus; and (3) testing samples of sputum, nasal mucus, or blood using ultrathin silicon nanomembranes to "instantly" determine if an individual has been infected. The Lung Development Molecular Atlas Program (LungMAP) and the Human BioMolecular Atlas Program (HuBMAP) collaboratives received funding from the NIH to examine human lung tissue in order to determine why children seemingly contract COVID-19 at a lower rate and remain more asymptomatic than the older population. Gloria Pryhuber, professor of Neonatology, will lead URMC's involvement in this multi-institutional project. The New York State Emerging Infections Program (EIP) is part of the federal Centers for Disease Control & Prevention's national effort to provide population-based communicable disease data to identify disease patterns, to evaluate vaccine programs, and to identify at-risk populations. The URMC EIP will be performing laboratory and population-based surveillance for COVID-19 as a part of multi-site national study. The group will collect a variety of demographic and clinical data that will be reported to the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention and the Monroe County Department of Public Health.

Please describe your research involving antibodies, memory B-Cells and the S-Subunit?

Dr. Mark Sangster in the Topham Lab has been studying acute and memory B cell (MBC) responses to COVID-19. We found evidence of pre-existing cross-reactive MBC specific for the S2 subunit of the spike glycoprotein and seasonal beta coronaviruses. This cross-reactive MBC responds more rapidly to infection and may affect responses to other SARS-CoV-2 proteins. Antibodies to the S2 subunit can be neutralizing. We are now trying to understand whether this immune memory is correlated with disease outcomes. We are also beginning studies of T cell responses to SARS-CoV-2 in acute and convalescent subjects.

Professional Summary

David Topham joined the faculty at the University of Rochester Medical Center in 1999 and was appointed in 2009 as Vice Provost and Executive Director of the Health Science Center for Computational Innovation (HSCCI), a partnership between New York State, the University and IBM. As Executive Director of the HSCCI, Dr. Topham's responsibility is to support collaboration in biomedical research using High Performance Computational Resources. He will bring together academic biomedical and health-related Research Investigators, High Performance Computational Biologists, and HP Research Computing resources. Dr. Topham provides strategic direction to the HSCCI and facilitates the development of research projects between UR scientists and its corporate partners, as well as support from state and federal agencies.

Dr. Topham is a Professor of Microbiology and Immunology, a member of the David H. Smith Center for Vaccine Biology and Immunology, and directs the New York Influenza Center of Excellence--one of the five national Centers of Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance supported by the NIH.

Dr. Topham was recently appointed as the Founding Director of the UR Translational Immunology and Infectious Diseases Institute whose mission is to foster collaborative team based approaches to translational research on infectious diseases and immunology.

About Topham Lab

Viruses that infect the respiratory tract are responsible for extensive morbidity and mortality in human population worldwide. Influenza virus is a particular concern because of its ability to periodically cause deadly pandemics, most recently in 2009 after the spread of a swine-origin H1N1 virus to humans. Novel avian influenza viruses such as H5N1 and H7N9 continue to cause sporadic cases of severe disease in humans and are an ongoing pandemic threat. An understanding of how the immune system controls influenza and other respiratory viruses and provides long-term protection is critical for the rational development of effective vaccination and treatment strategies.

Studies in our lab are primarily aimed at understanding the multiple roles of virus-specific B and T cells in determining the outcome of viral infection of the respiratory tract. In particular, we are interested in the character, longevity, and protective capacity of B and T cell memory induced by infection and vaccination. A large component of work in the lab focuses on the response of the human immune system to infection and vaccination; other work uses a variety of animal model systems to investigate basic immunological mechanisms. A recent initiative in the lab is the identification of viral genes and host responses that influence the severity of respiratory virus infections. This work will identify strategies for engineering new antivirals and improving vaccines.

Many projects involve strong collaborative interactions within centers at the University of Rochester that focus on immunity to respiratory pathogens. These centers include the Respiratory Pathogens Research Center (RPRC), the New York Influenza Center of Excellence (NYICE), and the University of Rochester Genomics Research Center (URGRC).

Read More: Dave Topham Spotlighted by Global Virus Network

Can the Common Cold Help Protect You from COVID-19?

Thursday, October 1, 2020

Seasonal colds are by all accounts no fun, but new research suggests the colds you've had in the past may provide some protection from COVID-19. The study, authored by infectious disease experts at the University of Rochester Medical Center, also suggests that immunity to COVID-19 is likely to last a long time -- maybe even a lifetime.

The study, published in mBio, is the first to show that the COVID-19-causing virus, SARS-CoV-2, induces memory B cells, long-lived immune cells that detect pathogens, create antibodies to destroy them and remember them for the future. The next time that pathogen tries to enter the body, those memory B cells can hop into action even faster to clear the infection before it starts.

Because memory B cells can survive for decades, they could protect COVID-19 survivors from subsequent infections for a long time, but further research will have to bear that out.

The study is also the first to report cross-reactivity of memory B cells -- meaning B cells that once attacked cold-causing coronaviruses appeared to also recognize SARS-CoV-2. Study authors believe this could mean that anyone who has been infected by a common coronavirus -- which is nearly everyone -- may have some degree of pre-existing immunity to COVID-19.

"When we looked at blood samples from people who were recovering from COVID-19, it looked like many of them had a pre-existing pool of memory B cells that could recognize SARS-CoV-2 and rapidly produce antibodies that could attack it," said lead study author Mark Sangster, Ph.D., a research professor of Microbiology and Immunology at URMC.

Sangster's findings are based on a comparison of blood samples from 26 people who were recovering from mild to moderate COVID-19 and 21 healthy donors whose samples were collected six to 10 years ago -- long before they could have been exposed to COVID-19. From those samples, study authors measured levels of memory B cells and antibodies that target specific parts of the Spike protein, which exists in all coronaviruses and is crucial for helping the viruses infect cells.

Read More: Can the Common Cold Help Protect You from COVID-19?

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