As the Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) continues to cause disruptions across the country, researchers at Saint Louis University are mobilizing to curb the pandemic and mitigate its effects.
Over 40 student and faculty researchers from 20 departments are studying this pandemic and its broader effects. Informed by our university’s Jesuit mission, these researchers are eager to serve those impacted by this pandemic, particularly those made most vulnerable during this difficult time.
A sample of this research can be found below. This page will be updated as new research is developed at the University.
Hear three SLU researchers discuss how SLU’s world-class vaccine research and development is fighting disease around the world with the help of our local St. Louis community.
- The Saint Louis University Center for Vaccine Development is home to one of only nine elite Vaccine Treatment and Evaluation Units (VTEUs) in the nation. The VTEU at SLU has previously participated in vaccine trials for the H1-N1 and Zika outbreaks, among other trials. This research team has access to state-of-the-art technologies and facilities, and the lab has approval to work with select agent pathogens under BSL-3 conditions. In April 2020, a new center of excellence in vaccine research was established called the Stephen C. Peiper and Zi-Xuan Wang Institute for Vaccine Science and Policy, following a $750,000 to SLU from Stephen C. Peiper, M.D. (Med ’77) and Zi-Xuan “Zoe” Wang, Ph.D., his wife, to support research aimed at developing new vaccines for COVID-19 and other illnesses.
- The VTEU team, which is led by Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D., participated in a teleconference on March 6 with the eight other VTEU sites to begin coordinating a response to this current pandemic.
- Though there are no treatments for the Novel Coronavirus, SLU is testing what could be one of the first. The VTEU at SLU recently completed a study of an investigational treatment for COVID-19. The study investigated the safety and effectiveness of remdesivir, an investigational intravenous anti-viral medication, in treating COVID-19. Sarah George, M.D., associate professor of infectious diseases, was the principal investigator of this St. Louis trial. Early data from the trial shows that patients who were hospitalized with COVID-19 recovered faster when they were given remdesivir, cutting recovery time from 15 to 11 days. The study also showed that patient mortality rates dropped from 11.6% to 8% for those given the study medication. While George and other experts emphasize that more study is needed, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease (NIAID), called the drug the new standard-of-care at a recent White House press conference. SLU is now involved in a new study involving remdesivir.
- SLU researchers who have previously made great progress on a universal flu vaccine are now using that experience to develop a coronavirus vaccine. SLU will begin Phase III trials in July 2020 testing multiple leading vaccine candidates with up to 1000 study volunteers for each vaccine. Additionally, in collaboration with EpiVax, SLU researchers are working to harness the potent antiviral properties of immune T cells in a promising and innovative approach.
- In 2018, the Center for Vaccine Development opened an Extended Stay Research Unit (ESRU) which allows for human challenge studies in which volunteers are exposed to certain viruses while researchers test novel treatments, collect samples and better understand the body's immune response.The ESRU was recently rennovated to safely accomodate quarantined COVID-19-positive volunteers for future human challenge studies.
- Current tests for COVID-19 are not sufficiently sensitive and/or accurate. To address this, SLU researchers are in the early stages of developing new, highly specific and sensitive diagnostic tests.
- In February 2020, Steve Rigdon, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, co-authored a new book entitled “Monitoring the Health of Populations by Tracking Disease Outbreaks: Saving Humanity from the Next Plague” with Ron Fricker, a professor in the Department of Statistics at Virginia Tech. Using a variety of examples throughout history, the book details how statisticians identify and track outbreaks, giving insight into how biostatisticians and epidemiologists can help end the spread of COVID-19.
- Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., professor of public health, and Tim Wiemken, Ph.D., associate professor from SLUCOR, are examining the timing and relationship of increased negative flu tests and influenza type illness (ILI).
- Lauren Arnold, Ph.D., associate professor of epidemiology, has undertaken educational efforts in local schools and university-settings focused on facts and transmission risks. She is developing a survey to examine knowledge, attitudes, behaviors and fears about coronavirus among student populations.
- SLU researchers from a variety of fields are tracking the spread of COVID-19. The SLU Geospatial Institute (GeoSLU) is leading these efforts. More information on these projects can be found on our dedicated Tracking COVID-19 page.
- Shacham, Wiemken and Stephen Scroggins, a doctoral student in public health, are using geospatial techniques to model relationships of infection risk in nursing homes and international airports.
- Shacham and Scroggins, alongside Michael Rozier, S.J., Ph.D., assistant professor of health management and policy, and Travis Loux, Ph.D., associate professor of biostatistics, have conducted a study which examines geospatial data and individuals’ perceptions of privacy in the midst of this pandemic.
- SLU researchers and instructors are consulting with school districts, healthcare systems, response personnel and federal agencies advising them on incident management and the coordination of hospitals and Emergency Operations Centers around the Midwest. They plan to develop response guidelines for infection preventionists and healthcare epidemiologists and to partner with the CDC on their recommendations related to hospitals and first responder infection prevention.
- SLU researchers and instructors are assisting local public health agencies in their response to this pandemic by assisting at emergency operations centers (EOC), helping with data analysis, developing health communication messages and answering questions from the general public.
- Terri Rebmann, Ph.D., professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, is serving on the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC) COVID-19 Task Force that was recently established. Rebmann, who is also the associate dean for academic and faculty affairs in the College for Public Health and Social Justice and the director of the Institute for Biosecurity, and the other task force members recently developed a national survey for APIC members on the availability of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) in US hospitals. The survey found that nearly half (48%) of U.S. health care facilities are already out of or almost out of N95 respirators that are vital in the care of patients with COVID-19. Many hospitals also reported a lack of hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies.
- Rebmann also presented an on-demand webinar from the American Nurses Association (ANA) that focused on the current PPE guidelines for supply optimization and how to maintain personnel safety. Register now and receive access to this online, on-demand webinar and view it anytime, anywhere.
- In February 2020, Wiemken and Ana Santos Rutschman, S.J.D., assistant professor in the Center for Health Law Studies, began the “Immunization Science and Policy Partnership at Saint Louis University.” Funded through a Spark Microgrant from the SLU Research Institute, the partnership aims to bring together experts working on topics at the intersection of vaccine science and policy. This work complements SLU’s internationally renowned vaccine development and clinical research. Though this project is still in its early stages, Rutschman and Wiemken are considering the COVID-19 pandemic as work on the project continues.
- Rob Gatter, J.D., professor in the Center for Health Law Studies, is serving on the St. Louis County Health Department COVID-19 Response Team. Gatter was named to the position by St. Louis County Executive Sam Page to assist the county health department with reviewing and drafting policies aimed at fighting the spread of COVID-19. Gatter is a nationally recognized expert in public health law and pandemic preparedness, including quarantine legality.
- On March 14, Gatter and Rutschman penned an op-ed in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offering additional recommendations for formal quarantine orders during the coronavirus crisis.
- Cort W. Rudolph, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology, is studying the impact of the pandemic on the workforce. An expert in industrial and organizational psychology, Rudolph is examining how the pandemic is shaping work-related processes, practices, and policies, including those related to job stress, occupational health and wellbeing, job insecurity, and more. Rudolph is also studying what this crisis means for the aging workforce and how this crisis is being framed in terms of “generations” and “generational differences.” He recently co-authored a paper on this topic which will appear in the journal Work, Aging and Retirement.
- Clinical psychologists at SLU have created a new hotline for frontline health care workers at SSM Health hospitals. The hotline will allow those on the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic to care for their psychological and mental health during this time of pandemic. The hotline has been established by the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Neuroscience in SLU’s School of Medicine and the Department of Psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences in partnership with Saint Louis Behavioral Medicine Institute (SLBMI).
Equity and Health Disparities
- The COVID-19 pandemic has underscored and exacerbated a variety of existing issues
regarding inequity. Black Americans are dying at higher rates compared to others diagnosed
with COVID-19. The Institute for Healing Justice & Equity at SLU is bringing together researchers, scholars, activists, health care practitioners
and community leaders to examine this problem. The Institute has launched "The Color of COVID," a webinar series to discuss the growing crisis and its impact on black Americans.
- The first session, entitled "Stopping the Trend," was facilitated by Keon Gilbert, Dr.PH., associate professor of behavioral science and health education and a co-founder of the institute, and brought together experts from a variety of fields to discuss the existing inequalities contributing to long standing health inequities and their relationship to COVID-19 and outline solutions and action steps that can be taken to stop the trend. The session can be viewed in its entirety here.
- The second session, entitled "Healing Justice Approaches to Self and Community Care," was facilitated by Kira Banks, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology and a co-founder of the institute, and highlighted practitioners who have taken innovative approaches to healing justice before and during the pandemic. The session can be viewed in its entirety here.
Ruqaiijah Yearby, J.D., M.P.H., professor of Law and executive director of the Institute for Healing Justice and Equity, is examining how structural racism has caused racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 infection and death rates. Yearby recently co-authored an article on this with Seema Mohapatra, J.D., M.P.H., of Indiana University entitled "Law, Structural Racism, and the COVID-19 Pandemic" which was published in the June 2020 edition of the Journal of Law and the Biosciences.
Yearby and Mohapatra also recently published a piece for the Health Affairs Blog detailing structural disparities within the workplace that disproportionately affect women of color and low-wage workers, particularly within the home healthcare and meat-packing industries. Yearby and Mohapatra were then interviewed by Public Health Law Watch for their #COVIDLaw Briefing concerning vulnerable workers in the time of COVID.
In the News
In addition to their research, subject matter experts at SLU are sharing their expertise with the public.Read More News from SLU Research on COVID-19
05/30- Sarah George, M.D., associate professor of infectious diseases and principal investigator of the remdesivir trial at SLU, was interviewed by the St. Louis Business Journal on the antiviral drug's impact on the virus and how the findings of the trial may be "the first ray of light" since the start of the pandemic.
05/26- SLU's Chris Prener, Ph.D., assistant professor of sociology and anthropology, was quoted in a St. Louis Post-Dispatch story about the challenges related to testing and tracking the spread of COVID-19 in Missouri. Prener has been tracking the spread of the virus in Missouri by county.
05/25- Ana Santos Rutschman, J.D., assistant professor with the Center for Health Law Studies, was quoted in a South China Morning Post article about questions related to distribution as the world races to develop a vaccine for COVID-19.
05/25- Nancy Bell, a theatre program director in Fine and Performing Arts, mined the COVID-19 pandemic to create the farce “MUTE: A Play for Zoom.”
05/21- Sarah George, M.D., associate professor of infectious diseases, was named a "WISER Woman Fighting COVID-19" by Missouri Cures. George was the principal investigator on a recent study of remdesivir at SLU as a possible treatment for COVID-19.