Notre Dame pivots funding and research to tackle COVID-19

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The University of Notre Dame’s Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics (AD&T) research center announced new awards that will enable faculty researchers to pivot or expand their existing research to address the detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prognosis of COVID-19 viral infections and related serious medical conditions. 

“Notre Dame researchers are adept at tackling emerging needs and, in the case of this pandemic, they are once again stepping up to the plate,” said Paul Bohn, Arthur J. Schmitt Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, professor of chemistry and biochemistry, and director of AD&T. “Our goal with offering this new funding is to advance our understanding of the virus and the direct and indirect health problems it can cause.” 

The new funding is intended to help faculty researchers build on existing data and technologies and support the rapid progress of promising results to translation or implementation. The recipients and their research projects are as follows:

  • Merlin Bruening, Donald and Susan Rice Professor of Engineering at Notre Dame, and Jacqueline Linnes, Marta E. Gross Assistant Professor of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University, received the award for “Membrane-based quantification of COVID-19 antibodies.” Their goal is to expand on their current National Science Foundation-funded (NSF) research that supports the development of tools for quantifying the COVID-19 immune response. The funding from AD&T will be used to quantify the capture of COVID-19 antibodies, which will help identify previously infected patients and how infections spread, and determine if immunity is temporary.
  • Hsueh-Chia Chang, Bayer Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Notre Dame, and Satyajyoti Senapati, Research Associate Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Notre Dame, received the award for “Highly sensitive rapid lateral flow SARS-COV-2 antigen test.” The researchers aim to expand on their National Institutes of Health-funded (NIH) project, which is to develop a suite of future microfluidic diagnostic devices for cancer screening, to diagnose viral infections. This new funding will utilize their technologies to help reduce the potential for false negatives by developing a rapid, cheap, and accurate point-of-contact COVID-19 test with significantly improved sensitivity and selectivity over current state-of-the-art tests.
  • Mayland Chang, research professor of chemistry and biochemistry and director of the Chemistry-Biochemistry-Biology Interface Program at Notre Dame, received the award for the “Inhibition of cathepsin-L by (R)-ND-336 as a treatment for COVID-19.” With the support of the Department of Defense, Chang has been investigating the compound (R)-ND-336, which was discovered at Notre Dame, as a clinical treatment for diabetic foot ulcers. Chang and her team have now found that this novel compound inhibits cathepsin-L, which has been shown to activate membrane fusion by SARS-CoV S glycoprotein, which means it could potentially be retargeted as a treatment for COVID-19 patients.
  • Nosang Myung, the Keating Crawford Endowed Professor in Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Notre Dame, received the award for “Nano-enabled sensor system for COVID-19 patient care.” Previous research funded by the NSF, NIH, and Naval Sea Systems Command has led Myung and his research team to develop miniaturized gas-sensing systems for varying applications. This new project aims to develop an electronic nose, or E-nose, that can be embedded in ventilators to monitor chemical and physical parameters. This system could also function as a stand-alone wearable safety sensor as outpatient care to those who lost the sense of smell due to COVID-19. 
  • Joshua Shrout, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering and earth sciences at Notre Dame, and Bohn received the award for “Identifying behavior and signatures of bacterial secondary infection after primary lung infection with SARS-CoV-2.” For a project funded by the NIH, the researchers are designing new diagnostics informed by their understanding of bacterial interactions and signature biomolecule production. With the AD&T award, Shrout and Bohn will expand this research to identify the behavior and signatures of the potentially dangerous bacterial pneumonia that can follow in patients who are first weakened by a coronavirus infection.
  • Bradley Smith, Emil T. Hofman Professor of Science and director of the Integrated Imaging Facility at Notre Dame, received the award for “Testing for acute kidney injury caused by COVID-19.” With NSF support, Smith has been developing novel supramolecular association systems that could potentially indicate kidney malfunction. The new research will apply this work specifically to the early detection of acute kidney injury, which is a common condition that SARS-CoV-2 infected patients are at risk of developing.

When the coronavirus originally emerged, faculty and researchers like Prakash Nallathamby, associate director of research of AD&T, started tracking the new respiratory illness. As more information became available about the virus, Nallathamby and others at AD&T began identifying research projects that could transition to address the coronavirus as well as funding opportunities to support new research endeavors. 

Within a two-month period, Notre Dame researchers applied for $7.2 million in awards from government agencies and private foundations to fund coronavirus-related projects. However, the urgent need for research to tackle this unfamiliar disease also lead to the creation of the new AD&T coronavirus funding program.

“Notre Dame has so many biomedical and precision health research interests that we can pursue a top-down approach to tackle COVID-19. Right now, researchers are simultaneously looking at improved surveillance for the disease, accurate diagnoses, effective treatments, and quantifying immune response following patient recovery,” said Nallathamby, who is also a research assistant professor of aerospace and mechanical engineering. “These efforts fit well within Notre Dame’s broader commitment to promoting health and well-being, leverages our expertise in bioanalytical metrology, and takes full advantage of the university’s broad clinical, pharmaceutical, and biotechnology networks.”

AD&T is a university research center at Notre Dame dedicated to combating disease, promoting health, and safeguarding the environment. The center aims to accelerate the research of faculty and students, identify and develop bold new ideas that will have real-world impact, create a community with shared interests from among different colleges and disciplines, and support the training of young researchers. AD&T is an intellectual nexus for a unique combination of researchers interested in everything from low-cost chemical measurements to nanoparticle drug delivery to patient adherence to medical regimens. To learn more, please visit advanceddiagnostics.nd.edu.

Contact:

Arnie Phifer / Associate Director

Advanced Diagnostics and Therapeutics / University of Notre Dame

adt@nd.edu / +1.574.631.3057

advanceddiagnostics.nd.edu / @nddiagnostics

About Notre Dame Research:

The University of Notre Dame is a private research and teaching university inspired by its Catholic mission. Located in South Bend, Indiana, its researchers are advancing human understanding through research, scholarship, education, and creative endeavor in order to be a repository for knowledge and a powerful means for doing good in the world. For more information, please see research.nd.edu or @UNDResearch.