COVID-19 Campus News 1

University of Georgia researchers are working to combat the spread of COVID-19 by researching treatments and testing, tracking the virus’s spread and researching its societal and psychological effects, according to a UGA Today news release.

Scott Pegan, director of the UGA Center for Drug Discovery, is working with colleagues in the College of Pharmacy to develop a vaccine, according to the release. Other scientists in UGA’s Center for Vaccines and Immunology lab are working on new vaccines and immunotherapies to fight the new coronavirus.

Ongoing research into the effectiveness of chloroquine in preventing malaria could help determine how effective the drug is against the coronavirus, according to the release. Several UGA infectious disease faculty have “extensive experience with chloroquine, the parent drug of hydroxychloroquine.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the emergency use of hydroxychloroquine in “severely ill COVID-19 patients” in March, according to the release.

President Donald Trump has spoken in favor of the drug, although it has not been proven to effectively treat the virus, according to the National Public Radio.

UGA researchers are developing new diagnostic tests. Currently, administering tests requires laboratories to be stocked with certain instruments and chemicals, according to the release. Any new tests developed by UGA will rely less on materials in short supply than current tests do.

“The increase in testing capacity is critical to Georgia’s effort to battle COVID-19 in our communities, and our institutions are working hard to make it happen,” said Steve Wrigley, chancellor of the University System of Georgia. “The experts at Augusta University, Georgia State University, Georgia Institute of Technology, and the University of Georgia understand that urgency and have the capacity and expertise to make this work for Georgia.”

UGA Odum School of Ecology Professor John Drake produces statistical models that track and predict how the disease is spreading. He researches the connections between animal health, human health and the environment for the UGA Center for the Ecology of Infectious Diseases, according to the release.

In January, Drake and a team of about 30 scientists formed UGA’s Coronavirus Working Group, which built and maintains a COVID-19 Portal. A tool on the portal tracks the spread of COVID-19 and predicts potential outbreaks based on models.

Other UGA researchers, such as Rob Woods, professor of biochemistry and molecular biology, are creating models of the virus at its molecular level.

“Modeling these structures helps researchers understand how COVID-19 evades immune responses by coating itself with human molecules,” according to the release. “This work could guide the design of vaccines or therapeutics.”

Along with over 100 international social scientists, associate professor of psychology Michelle vanDellen is collecting data on “societal factors” that might predict the spread of COVID-19.

“We want to know how COVID-19 affects different people and cultures, and to mobilize our teams of behavioral scientists to identify targets for rapid intervention to slow the spread of the pandemic and minimize its social damage,” vanDellen said in the release.

Richard Slatcher, a professor of psychology, is working with international colleagues to study the psychological effects of sheltering in place. Eric Zeemering, an associate professor of public administration and policy, is gathering information about how Georgia cities reacted at the beginning of the pandemic.