A variety of high-impact projects to prevent and respond swiftly to future pandemics are moving forward at Colorado State University, using much of a $2 million gift received from The Anschutz Foundation earlier this year.
The two-year commitment, announced last summer, will help develop new solutions for building resilience and agility in stopping infectious disease transmission among animals and people. The gift will support interdisciplinary research teams and diverse graduate students.
“This gift from The Anschutz Foundation is a concrete affirmation of our commitment — and demonstrated ability — to positively and powerfully change our world,” said CSU President Joyce McConnell. “Not only does it support our exciting current research, it will support our researchers, including the amazing graduate students who will be carrying this research into the future.”
The gift is expected to build a more high-capacity, diverse workforce in these areas of research and development, and the efforts will involve diverse researchers.
“This initiative’s focus is to begin to build a resilient future for public health,” said Alan Rudolph, CSU vice president for research. “Coming out of a pandemic, we need new thinking that keeps us out front on research and readiness, resilience and response.”
About the research projects
In its request for proposals, the Office of the Vice President for Research focused on two areas of interest: “enhanced disease surveillance and early warning” as well as “agile and broad-spectrum countermeasures.”
Seven CSU projects have been selected to share about $1.4 million in total funding. The projects aim to accelerate innovations related to pandemic disease, with a focus on preparedness and planning, countermeasures, and therapeutics.
Here are the project summaries:
Countering misinformation. Preventing disease depends upon gaining public acceptance for solutions, and as the coronavirus crisis revealed, misinformation and misunderstanding can be an obstacle, according to the U.S. surgeon general. So, a project called “Stop the spread: Community-engaged education to address misinformation around pandemic disease,” enlists seven CSU faculty members in communications, microbiology, immunology, and pathology to develop a curriculum to train future scientists to engage communities and counter misinformation. The project is led by faculty members Ashley Anderson of the Department of Journalism and Media Communication and Colleen Duncan and Nicole Kelp of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology.
Student health. To protect students from coronavirus, one team of researchers will develop a detailed monitoring system to better understand how the contagion spreads in a university setting. The research involves the use of a unique face mask for the subjects, a virus test for contacts they encounter, and a daily report of symptoms and activities. Six researchers from CSU and the Colorado School of Public Health, as well as students at CU Anschutz, CU Boulder, CU Colorado Springs, and Colorado Mesa University, will participate. It’s called “A study design coalition: cataloging immune correlates of SARS-CoV-2 virus among pre-selected disease cohorts in university communities,” led by Associate Professor John Spencer and Associate Professor Marcela Henao-Tamayo of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology.
Other projects. Some projects deal with countermeasures and therapeutics.
Nasal spray. One project seeks to develop a nasal spray that can stop the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. It would use ultraviolet-deactivated virus particles, and the project is called “Inactivated virus mucosal vaccines for protection from respiratory tract infections.” It’s led by Professor Steve Dow of the Department of Clinical Sciences and members from biomedical sciences and microbiology, immunology, and pathology.
Livestock protection. Another team of CSU researchers will prepare rapid responses for disease outbreaks that affect livestock. Specifically, they will prepare a coordinated plan involving industry and state and federal agencies for a potential outbreak of highly contagious foot-and-mouth disease in cattle in Colorado. The 14-member team is led by Professor Frank Garry of the Department of Clinical Sciences, with members from animal sciences, biology, statistics, the Colorado Department of Agriculture, and the USDA.
Other projects include:
- “Building a broad-spectrum therapeutic testing platform by exploiting common mechanisms of viruses with pandemic potential,” led by Associate Professor Rushika Perera of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Pathology.
- “Development of a flow-through photochemical reactor for high-volume vaccine manufacturing,” led by Rapid Prototyping Lab Director John Mizia of the Energy Institute.
- “Transformative pandemic response infrastructure: an integrated device for automated wastewater sampling and simultaneous molecular capture of infectious agents,” led by Associate Professor Susan De Long of the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
“The Anschutz Foundation invests in work that ultimately improves the lives of people,” said Christian Anschutz, president of The Anschutz Foundation. “We view CSU’s infectious disease research as one component of strengthening communities in Colorado and beyond. CSU’s multidisciplinary discoveries funded by our grant can help minimize or avoid the impact of future disease outbreaks.”