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Coronavirus research continues on the Main Line

Lankenau Medical Center February 5, 2021 Medical Research

At Lankenau Institute for Medical Research (LIMR), a division of Main Line Health, several LIMR investigators and their teams have been working hard to advance studies to better treat and prevent COVID-19. Several are working with federal agencies and research collaborators around the country.

Here is an update on their progress:

Professor Scott Dessain, MD, PhD and colleagues used a LIMR-developed technology to identify and copy the most protective antibodies from 30 consenting Lankenau Medical Center patients who recovered from COVID-19. LIMR was one of the first research centers to provide those much-needed antibodies to BARDA (Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority), the federal agency that responds to chemical, radiological and biological threats. BARDA will use the antibodies as national standards for infection testing by other researchers. The agency expressed its gratitude for LIMR’s expertise and quick response during the pandemic.

Professor Ellen Heber-Katz, PhD is revisiting a generalized vaccine strategy she previously developed to assess possible use against any virus, including coronavirus. A peptide-lipid-liposome compound she developed was shown in animal studies to produce a unique and powerful T-cell response that protected the animals from lethal doses of herpes virus and rabies. Her team has since modified the concept, with the goal of incorporating a novel adjuvant (additional cancer treatment, to suppress secondary tumor growth) to improve the response to her vaccine by elderly individuals. Older people are most at risk of dying from COVID-19 and often respond more weakly to vaccination compared with younger patients. At the personal encouragement of NIH’s Dr. Anthony Fauci, Dr. Heber-Katz and her collaborators at University of Colorado continue to advance this important work.

Melvin Reichman, PhD, director of the LIMR Chemical Genomics Center (LCGC), is part of an international consortium funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (via the Vancouver Prostate Centre) to discover new combination-drug treatments for COVID-19. His role involves designing experiments to identify SARS-CoV-2 antiviral compounds that work well with the drug remdesivir, an experimental drug being used to treat COVID-related conditions. Other project team members include experts in infectious disease research from U.S. and Canadian institutions.

In collaboration with Dynamis Pharmaceuticals, Dr. Reichman also received a grant from the Ben Franklin “Save Our Startups” program to study a treatment for dangerous immune reactions, known as “cytokine storms,” in COVID-19 patients. The medication, meglumine, is being jointly developed by LIMR and Dynamis for treating diabetes complications such as kidney and liver dysfunction, which are known to be underlying conditions in COVID-19 fatalities.

Preclinical studies done by Professor James Mullin, PhD and his team found that vitamins A and D can tighten lung tissue barrier functions as a natural defense against viral infection. Research examining the vitamins’ ability to reduce lung inflammation are underway, as are studies of how COVID-19 defeats barrier functions in the lung tissue lining. The latter project is being conducted with collaborators at University of Pennsylvania and University of Texas. Overall, they seek to show how these vitamins may offer inexpensive and effective treatments to reduce mortality and improve patient outcomes.

Research Assistant Professor Sunil Thomas, PhD is working on a COVID-19 structural vaccine and a simple diagnostic test. With collaborators at Kansas State University, they are using the new principles of structure-based design, which seeks to identify viral immunogens that can produce the most protective antibody responses. The next step is to test the vaccine concept in animals.

COVID-19 clinical research at LIMR

The Clinical Research Center at LIMR, under the direction of Paul Gilman, MD, is participating in a program to administer ruxolitinib, a medication that inhibits cytokine storms, which are commonly seen in COVID-19 patients. As of early September, nine patients had been registered in this important program. The primary investigators are Luciano Kapelusznik, MD, and Bharti Asnani, MD, infectious disease specialists at Bryn Mawr Hospital and Riddle Hospital, respectively.

Main Line Health also is participating in a global observational study of COVID-19 patients admitted to intensive care units. The ECMOCARD study is collecting and describing myriad clinical aspects of the disease, such as severity of respiratory failure and risk factors. Patient data is anonymous to protect privacy. Eric Gnall, DO, of Lankenau Heart Institute is Main Line Health’s principal investigator.

COVID-19 population health research at LIMR

Investigators at the Main Line Health Center for Population Health Research (CPHR) at LIMR surveyed about 5,600 people nationwide in the first weeks of the pandemic to discern how the crisis was impacting them. Results showed high anxiety levels, a finding that may point to downstream health conditions such as depressive disorders, substance abuse and social phobias. The CPHR team compiled these and other results of the survey and submitted papers to peer-reviewed journals. Their intent is to alert the larger health care community of the pandemic’s possible long-term implications.

CPHR also surveyed Main Line Health physicians to better understand the well-being of those working on the pandemic’s frontlines. Some providers, like members of the general public, reported higher levels of anxiety, in this case related to the stress of delivering care to patients with COVID-19 and keeping their own families safe. CPHR anonymized the responses and provided a comprehensive report to Main Line Health leadership.

Main Line Health serves patients at hospitals and health centers throughout the western suburbs of Philadelphia. To schedule an appointment with a specialist at Main Line Health, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.