Fellows across all our cohorts contributed to the scientific community’s response to COVID-19
Fellows who refocused their pre-pandemic science onto a COVID-19 question
Fellows who made a temporary move into a completely different scientific field to help fight COVID-19
Dr. James Chen, 2020 Fellow has been working with colleagues in his PhD lab at Rockefeller University to investigate an enzyme that has a central role in how SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the body. The work has potential implications for how drugs such as remdesivir work.
The group has been studying the SARS-CoV-2 RNA-dependent RNA polymerase (RdRp, also known as nsp12). Specifically, James and colleagues are interested in the SARS-CoV-2 nonstructural proteins (nsp’s) that assemble with RdRp to affect its function and how antiviral drugs target and affect the activity of this enzyme. The Rockefeller group has solved a cryo-electron miscroscope structure of the SARS-CoV-2 RdRp in complex with the nsp13 helicase which was published in Cell on July 28, 2020.
Dr. Shriya Srinivasan, 2020 Fellow, has been leading work as part of a Boston-area consortium to devise and validate the safe sharing of a ventilator multiplexing solution for COVID-19 patients. The research involves scientists and engineers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital. The system design for the Individualized System for Augmenting Ventilation (iSAVE) allows one ventilator to be shared with multiple patients but to not compromise on personalized volume and pressures settings for each patient. The iSave’s design and validation on ICU ventilators and large animals were published in Science Translational Medicine. Through Project Prana, a 501c3 nonprofit, the iSAVE system, which is currently under review for emergency use authorizaion through the FDA, is being translated to hospitals in countries including India, Bangladesh, Ecuador, Italy, and Venezuela.
Dr. Fernando Soto, 2020 Fellow, is working with colleagues at Stanford University to develop a non-invasive and wearable adhesive patch that is easily integrated to any protective mask to collect SARS-CoV-2 virus samples from exhaled breath over several hours (>3 hours). Fernando believes constant sampling to identify asymptomatic patients in the general population is key to stopping the spread of the virus.
The proposed collector devices are inexpensive and can be made in large quantities, enabling rapid transition to widespread use. Fernando hopes this research work builds upon the current need to wear a protective mask and provide a foundation for easily scalable and early detection of sampling platforms to aide in understanding disease progression and prevention in the current and future pandemics.
Two members of the 2018 cohort of Schmidt Science Fellows came together at the start of the pandemic to combine their expertise and knowledge to advance an interdisciplinary approach to COVID-19 testing. Dr. Fahim Farzadfard, CTO and Co-Founder of MitoLab in Boston and Dr. Hal Holmes, Chief Engineer at Conservation X Labs in Seattle collaborated to combine engineering and chemistry with the aim of repurposing a hand-held DNA testing device Hal invented to identify wildlife samples to quickly test samples for SARS-CoV-2 RNA.
This interdisciplinary collaboration by two Senior Fellows has the potential to address the absence of point-of-care (POC) molecular diagnostics for COVID-19 in low-resource settings. The test can detect SARS-CoV-2 molecular markers in saliva samples under 30 minutes and offers rapid, decentralized testing as the system requires no cold-chain storage.
Hal and colleagues at Conservation X Labs have led on engineering, product design, and marketing, with Fahim and colleagues at MitoLab having developed SARS-CoV-2 RNA detection chemistry to work within the device.
The work has been supported by a not-for-profit funder and the joint team is part of the NIH RADx-Next Program. The device is on track for Emergency Use Authorization approval from the FDA with the aim to have it in community use in early 2021.
Clinical trials have been conducted with Beth-Israel hospital in Boston and Conservation X Labs and MitoLab are in talks with the governors/mayors of multiple cities including Davis and San Jose to help with reopening plans for those cities once the testing kit is launched.
“During the 2020 Senior Fellow visit to our lab in Seattle, we performed a demonstration of our prototype DNA testing device on a sample of Atlantic salmon. When the COVID-19 pandemic broke out about two months later, Dr. Fahim Fazardfard, who was on the visit, recognized that our platform could be adapted for decentralized COVID-19 testing. Fahim reached out to me and we began collaborating with his startup. Their efforts helped us identify chemistries that could perform a COVID-19 test on our platform and their initial data and network led to essential funding that we needed to accelerate the translation of our prototype into a manufacturable product.”
Hal Holmes, 2018 Fellow