The National Cancer Institute (NCI) injected $2.6 million into research involving two studies led by Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic as part of the NCI’s Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet), which recently awarded 13 grants nationwide. This network was set up to fight the COVID-19 pandemic by improving the ability to test for infection, especially among diverse populations while contributing to the acceleration of clinical trials testing therapies and vaccines targeting SARS-CoV-19, the pathogen behind COVID-19. The preeminent Cleveland regional health systems and research centers joint NCI’s SeroNet.
TrialSite offers a brief breakdown of this new information.
What is SeroNet?
Sponsored and run by the NCI, SeroNet is the nation’s largest coordinated effort to study the immune response to COVID-19. The network aims to combat the pandemic by improving the ability to test for infection, especially among diverse populations, and speed the development of treatments and vaccines.
Comprised of a number of collaborating organizations, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the Department of Health and Human Services and 25 of the nation’s top biomedical research centers, the network was established using funds from an emergency appropriation of $306 million to NCI “to develop, validate, improve and implement serological testing and associated technologies.
More specifically, the scientific research community doesn’t fully understand the nature of antibody resistance to COVID-19 nor the range of immunological activity triggered post exposure. SeroNet was organized with emergency funds to seek out answers.
What questions are the researchers trying to solve?
From the time a person is exposed to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the immune system is hard at work performing early immunological events. Doctors and researchers have been unable to fully understand the immune response to the virus and why certain people show symptoms and others remain asymptomatic.
One of the team’s investigators, Christopher King was quoted, “By characterizing the early immune response prior to onset of symptoms we hope to identify features that will predict symptomatic versus asymptomatic cases, disease severity and long-term immunity.”
Recovery from COVID-19 can put extreme pressure on the immune system, especially for patients with pre-existing complications. Certain individuals, including those with impaired immune function and those with heart disease, appear to be at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.
What will the Cleveland -area group focus on?
According to a recent press release, the team will focus on discerning how the earliest innate immune responses to COVID-19 either positively or negatively affect development of humoral (antibodies in body fluids) immunity. This research involves the following of household contacts of clinical cases associated with COVID-19 to determine innate and adaptive immune events associated with this early viral exposure over a 28-day period. The study teams seeks to better understand the durability of immunity to COVID-19 over several years.
Does the funding allow for Case Western Reserve to leverage existing expertise while pivoting to study aspects of COVID-19?
Yes. As described by Stan Gerson, MD, interim dean of the School of Medicine and director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine, “Case Western Reserve is a leader in emerging infections, immune response and clinical cancer investigation.” Dr. Gerson continued on to explain that the NCI funded supported a “…pivot of existing knowledge and resources to accelerate our understanding of COVID-19 infections to optimize our protection and response to this clinically devastating infection.”
Who are the investigators involved?
David Zidar, MD, an associate professor at the School of Medicine and an interventional cardiologist at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center, and Timothy A. Chan, MD, PhD, director of the Center for Immunotherapy and Precision Immuno-Oncology at Cleveland Clinic and co-director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine at Case Western Reserve, are investigating differences in immunologic function and risk factors for heart disease, and how these relate to COVID-19. They will also compare which patients develop heart involvement in response to COVID-19 versus those who do not, identifying ways the virus may directly or indirectly attack distant organs such as the heart.
Other investigators involved including Adam Burgener, PhD; Mark Cameron, PhD; David Canaday, MD; Jeff Jacobson, MD; Jon Karn, PhD; Christopher L. King, MD, PhD; and Curtis Tatsuoka, PhD, at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine
What are some hopeful breakthroughs?
For one the team’s research could have an impact for all COVID-19 patients with pre-existing conditions, not just those with heart disease.
About Case Western Reserve University
Case Western Reserve University is one of the country’s leading private research institutions. Located in Cleveland, we offer a unique combination of forward-thinking educational opportunities in an inspiring cultural setting. Our leading-edge faculty engage in teaching and research in a collaborative, hands-on environment. Our nationally recognized programs include arts and sciences, dental medicine, engineering, law, management, medicine, nursing and social work. About 5,100 undergraduate and 6,700 graduate students comprise our student body. Visit case.edu to see how Case Western Reserve thinks beyond the possible.
About Cleveland Clinic
Cleveland Clinic is a nonprofit multispecialty academic medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education. Located in Cleveland, Ohio, it was founded in 1921 by four renowned physicians with a vision of providing outstanding patient care based upon the principles of cooperation, compassion and innovation. Cleveland Clinic has pioneered many medical breakthroughs, including coronary artery bypass surgery and the first face transplant in the United States. U.S. News & World Report consistently names Cleveland Clinic as one of the nation’s best hospitals in its annual “America’s Best Hospitals” survey. Among Cleveland Clinic’s 67,554 employees worldwide are more than 4,520 salaried physicians and researchers, and 17,000 registered nurses and advanced practice providers, representing 140 medical specialties and subspecialties. Cleveland Clinic is a 6,026-bed health system that includes a 165-acre main campus near downtown Cleveland, 18 hospitals, more than 220 outpatient facilities, and locations in southeast Florida; Las Vegas, Nevada; Toronto, Canada; Abu Dhabi, UAE; and London, England. In 2019, there were 9.8 million total outpatient visits, 309,000 hospital admissions and observations, and 255,000 surgical cases throughout Cleveland Clinic’s health system. Patients came for treatment from every state and 185 countries. Visit us at clevelandclinic.org. Follow us at twitter.com/CCforMedia and twitter.com/ClevelandClinic. News and resources available at newsroom.clevelandclinic.org.