PURDUE RESEARCHERS LEAP TO ADDRESS COVID-19 PANDEMIC

Lia Stanciu

Lia Stanciu, a professor of materials engineering, is working on new diagnostic tools for the virus that causes COVID-19. Purdue University photo / Mark Simons.

SPRING 2020 |

As the novel coronavirus pandemic surpasses 6 million cases worldwide, Purdue researchers continue moving forward with dozens of research and engagement projects.

Theresa Mayer, executive vice president for research and partnerships, says that COVID-19 research at Purdue began months ago.

“Many of our scientists and engineers began shifting their work to the novel coronavirus soon after it first became known, even before the first scientific articles about the virus were published in early February,” she said. “For example, Andy Mesecar, who has studied various coronaviruses for most of his career, received genetic information about the virus on Friday, Jan. 17, and began synthesizing the genes for producing a set of target proteins that would make suitable drug targets.

“Our faculty members have responded with urgency and energy to address this global pandemic.”

Research and engagement activities being conducted at Purdue include:

Expanding the state’s testing capabilities

The Indiana Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory (ADDL), located in Purdue’s College of Veterinary Medicine, is working with Fort Wayne-based Parkview Health to conduct COVID-19 tests for human patients. Testing began after the lab received Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments certification to conduct human diagnostic testing, with Parkview agreeing to provide clinical oversight. Testing will be expanded in collaboration with other hospitals, with all samples sent directly from partner hospitals to the ADDL. To avoid a testing backlog, hospitals interested in working with the ADDL are required to complete the Partnership Inquiry Partnership Inquiry Form.

Understanding the virus and improving scientific methods

Discovering more about how SARS-CoV-2 infects cells, developing methods that can amplify extremely small amounts of the viral genome to complement current testing methods, and purifying and producing specific proteins from the virus to aid in drug screening and vaccine development.

Researchers include Richard Kuhn, the Trent and Judith Anderson Distinguished Professor in Science and the Krenicki Family Director of the Purdue Institute of Inflammation, Immunology and Infectious Disease; Raluca Ostafe, director, Molecular Evolution, Protein Engineering, and Production facility; Jorge Rodriguez, associate professor, physics; Cagri Savran, professor, mechanical engineering; and W. Andy Tao, professor, biochemistry.

Development of diagnostic tools

Efforts on finding individuals with COVID-19 and engineering improved diagnostic tools is the focus of six research efforts, which include paper tests that are similar to home pregnancy tests, developing a sensing device that can detect nCoV from saliva, and optical sensing tools that can detect minute quantities of the virus.

Researchers working on diagnostic tools include Lia Stanciu-Gregory, professor, materials engineering; Jacqueline Linnes, assistant professor, biomedical engineering; Tamara Kinzer-Ursem, associate professor, biomedical engineering; and Mohit Verma, assistant professor, agricultural and biological engineering.

Development of therapeutics

Purdue has a long history of success in drug discovery. One of the researchers involved in coronavirus research, Arun Ghosh, the Ian P. Rothwell Distinguished Professor of Organic and Medicinal Chemistry, developed an anti-viral HIV/AIDS drug, Darunvir. Current efforts include screening and identifying compounds that are potential anti-viral drugs, raising antibodies to neutralize the virus, and discovering vaccine components.

In addition to Ghosh, researchers involved in this effort include R. Claudio Aguilar, associate professor, biological sciences; V. Jo Davisson, professor, medicinal chemistry and molecular pharmacology; Philip Low, Purdue’s Ralph C. Corley Distinguished Professor of Chemistry; and Robert Stahelin, medicinal chemistry, molecular pharmacology.

Improving current medical supplies

Purdue engineers in several departments have been looking at medical supplies that are in short supply and investigating if there are ways to produce them faster or produce products that can be disinfected more easily. Nathan Hartman, the Dauch Family Professor of Advanced Manufacturing and head of the Department of Computer Graphics Technology, is spearheading a group called the Boiler Makers, which, in early April, began producing safety glasses, face shields, disposable connectors for ventilators, and N95 masks that can be easily disinfected. The group also includes David McMillan, assistant director, Bechtel Innovation Design Center; Paul McPherson, assistant professor, engineering technology; Andrew Miller, laboratory manager, biological sciences; Andrew Pierce, assistant director, Engineering Projects in Community Service (EPICS); Mark Sharpe, director, technical, College of Pharmacy; and Brian Overshiner, manager, Indiana University Health 3D Innovation Project Lab.

  1. NSF Rapid awards and other grants: Lea Stanciu-Gregory, Andrew Whelton. Andy Mesecar has an award, too. Watch messaging around critical and essential research per Pam.
  2. SPS has a resource page on existing awards. Amanda will send the latest closer to publication date.

Additionally, Jeff Bolin, associate vice president for research, is overseeing an effort to collect unused laboratory personal protective equipment to donate to healthcare facilities and laboratories on campus engaged in critical COVID-19 research. For more information on PPE collection efforts, contact Bolin at jtb@purdue.edu.

Investigating building safety

Andrew Whelton, an associate professor of civil engineering and of environmental and ecological engineering, has received funding from the National Science Foundation’s Rapid Response Research (RAPID) program to monitor water quality in buildings both during a period of extended vacancy and when occupants have returned.

Encouraging family resilience

The College of Health and Human Sciences has launched Families Tackling Tough Times Together, a program to support families as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Guided by scientific evidence about family resilience, the pop-up program is being developed by HHS along with contributing partners from Purdue and beyond, with the aim of helping families strengthen their resilience while they cope with the crisis.

You can read more about Purdue COVID-19 research and engagement activities here: