During the pandemic, Pittsburgh is doing what it does best

PIttsburgh Medical Center

As we’ve been reporting over these last few weeks, Flyover Country is doing some incredible things during the coronavirus crisis. Pittsburgh is no exception.

With the medical track record of the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, no one should be surprised that the city’s scientific and medical communities are innovating life-saving treatments during the coronavirus pandemic.

Researchers are busy thinking outside the box during this unprecedented moment. And it’s not its first rodeo with a deadly virus. Dr. Jonas Salk was at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine when he developed the polio vaccine.

The Pitt Center for Vaccine Research was one of just a handful of academic institutions to receive funding to develop a vaccine. Early in the fight, the Center was chosen to receive vials of the live virus in order to create test kits.

“There are virologists all around the world who have been trained for this moment,” CVR director and Jonas Salk Chair for Vaccine Research Paul Duprex, Ph.D., said at the time. “We have colleagues in many parts of the world who collaborate and work with us to share information and share knowledge because this is important.”

Another research team at the school of medicine was the first to introduce a peer-reviewed vaccine candidate. The authors of the study call it PittCoVacc (short for Pittsburgh Coronavirus Vaccine) The researchers developed a novel approach for delivering the drug, called a microneedle array, to increase potency. The array is a fingertip-sized patch of 400 tiny needles that delivers the spike protein pieces into the skin, where the immune reaction is strongest.

“Our ability to rapidly develop this vaccine was a result of scientists with expertise in diverse areas of research working together with a common goal,” said co-senior author Louis Falo, professor and chair of dermatology at Pitt’s School of Medicine and UPMC.

The Pitt Clinical and Translational Science Institute jumped into action by offering $50,000 pilot project grants for Pitt researchers working on COVID-19-related therapies and mitigation methods. The Center for Medical Innovation is offering a similar grant program.

When it became clear that the crisis would cause a painful economic disruption, Pitt’s Institute for Entrepreneurial Excellence responded with a web page to provide the most up to date information and resources for regional small businesses.

Epistemix, a Pitt spinout startup that has created a disease progression analytics platform to help governments and health insurers optimize their decision making, is currently being bombarded with requests.

Carnegie Mellon University is conducting a research project with Facebook’s Data for Good program in which they will survey U.S. users about their health. The project is aimed at gathering “heat maps” of self-reported coronavirus infections. The researchers say the information gathered will help them predict where medical resources are needed.

The extraordinary work that the medical and research community is doing in Pittsburgh is growing. We’ll keep you updated.