University of Kentucky Researchers Unite to Fight COVID-19

Researchers and faculty from multiple disciplines across the University of Kentucky are coming together as part of the global effort to treat, understand and eradicate COVID-19.

The COVID-19 Unified Research Experts (CURE) Alliance team, a new workgroup within UK’s College of Medicine, is bringing together UK experts from across the campus to focus on advising COVID-19 patient care and clinical trials based on emerging research and potential treatment options.

College of Medicine Dean Robert DiPaola recently announced the creation of CURE, which the college is funding with additional support from UK’s Vice President for Research Lisa Cassis.

“As we all work together in this unprecedented crisis, the strength and expertise we have in clinical care, research, and instruction across the University of Kentucky is readily apparent,” DiPaola said. “As the world seeks to find preventive and therapeutic means to help with this virus, it is important to maximize and mobilize our collective expertise to help guide what we do here, as drugs are being studied and considered for compassionate use for patients and as studies of repurposed drugs are rapidly being launched and completed.”

The team is made up of a wide variety of UK researchers including experts in virology, infectious disease and epidemiology, pharmacy, lung biology and physiology, respiratory disorders and clinical trials.

“Over the next weeks, we will assess emerging studies to guide the College of Medicine’s clinical enterprise to provide the best COVID-19 patient care available,” said CURE leader Rebecca Dutch, a virologist and chair of UK’s Department of Molecular & Cellular Biochemistry. “Our goal in the long term is to identify the best options for patient participation in ongoing clinical trials, as well as clinical trials we can develop right here at UK.”

Dutch says the team, which is now meeting multiple times a week via Zoom, is also identifying potential COVID-19 research collaborations among UK experts. Several CURE team members have expertise directly related to COVID-19.

For example, alliance experts include Lisa Cassis who has a long-standing publication record studying ACE2, the cellular receptor for the novel coronavirus; Peter Morris, chief for the division of pulmonary, critical care, and sleep medicine, whose research expertise includes acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a lung condition that is a major complication in severe cases of COVID-19; and Vivek Rangnekar, associate director of UK’s Markey Cancer Center, who has conducted clinical trials in cancer patients with hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that the FDA recently approved to treat patients with COVID-19.

Dutch says that this breadth of research expertise will play a key role in current patient treatment, as well as understanding that could lead to new antiviral medications, vaccines, and important treatment developments in the future.

“First and foremost, we’re making smart decisions as a team as far as the best direction for patient health and for the good of the people of Kentucky,” Dutch said.