UIC part of $7.4M grant to respond to COVID-19, prepare for future pandemics

Two projects led by University of Illinois Chicago teams received funds from a $7.4 million grant to generate COVID-19 data and insights to better understand the transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and inform public health policy. 

The Walder Foundation, a private family foundation focused in part on funding work in science innovation, recently announced the grants for the Chicago Coronavirus Assessment Network (Chicago CAN) initiative, a unique collaboration with state, local and county health officials and the scientific community, to support several pandemic-related projects. 

The UIC team, led by Renee Taylor, professor of occupational therapy and associate dean for academic and faculty affairs in the College of Applied Health Sciences, was awarded over $1.2 million for “Chicago Can Beat COVID-19: Investigating the Efficacy of a Novel Self-testing Approach and Persuasive mHealth Technology in an Underserved, Community-based Sample.”  

This study brings together UI Health’s Mile Square Health Center, the UIC School of Public Health and the UIC Clinical Microbiology Laboratory to support gathering self-collected saliva samples from residents in neighborhoods where COVID-19 testing access is limited or non-existent. Samples will be collected from those with and without symptoms as part of an early warning system to detect new viral threats and stop them from becoming full-blown pandemics. This project will support expanded viral testing, contact tracing, and the development of an educational and community outreach app. The team also will use an innovative SARS-CoV-2 saliva test developed by co-investigator Nahed Ismail, professor of pathology in the College of Medicine, that can be collected at home and sent to the lab for analysis, providing an additional way of reaching underserved populations. 

“It is our strong belief that prevention of COVID-19 transmission through increased COVID-19 literacy and self-care agency, combined with early intervention via rapid diagnosis, contact tracing, and earlier access to treatment, will significantly reduce COVID-19 transmission, morbidity, and mortality, compared with usual care approaches,” Taylor said.

UIC’s Rachel Poretsky of a Discovery Partners Institute (DPI) science team co-leads a second Walder CAN award with Charlie Catlett, a senior research scientist at DPI: “Chicago Prototype Coronavirus Assessment Network Node (PCANN).”

The project, which received $1.25 million from the Walder Foundation, aims to prototype and evaluate a Chicago-based wastewater surveillance system for SARS-CoV-2 to provide a non-invasive and cost-effective way to examine community-level spread of the virus. By giving advance warning of emerging viral hotspots up to a week earlier than traditional tests, wastewater surveillance could give public health officials valuable time to mobilize and protect communities from uncontrolled outbreaks.  Coordinated through DPI, the PCANN project also includes collaborators from the Chicago Department of Public Health, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District, and scientists from DPI partner institutions Argonne National Laboratory, Northwestern University, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and the University of Chicago. 

“Our multi-institutional team has extensive experience with waterways analysis, providing a solid basis for developing methods to provide early warning regarding hotspots or reemergence of COVID-19 across Chicago,” Poretsky said. “Central to our goal is to provide the Chicago, Cook County, and Illinois Departments of Public Health with information about an outbreak up to a week before it would show up in data from individual testing.” 

UIC joins several regional institutions that also have been awarded funds through The Walder Foundation. Projects include: 

  • Surveillance, Transmission Dynamics, and Disparities of COVID-19 Among Chicago Children — Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago  
  • Alive Church Network: Increasing COVID-19 Testing in Chicago’s African American Testing Deserts — Rush University Medical Center 
  • Characterizing the Broadly Neutralizing Antibody Response in SARS-CoV-2 Infected individuals — Rush University Medical Center  
  • Surveying SARS-CoV-2 Genomes and Public Data in Near Real-Time for Pandemic Response in Chicago — Open Commons Consortium (Center for Computational Science Research Inc.) 

Learn more at www.WalderFoundation.org. 

Print Friendly, PDF & Email