BME faculty take part in national COVID-19 research

Faculty members in the Department of Biomedical Engineering are taking the lead on research projects that aim to learn more about the novel coronavirus

Danielle Lacey 

Faculty in the Department of Biomedical Engineering are joining researchers around the world to learn more about the novel coronavirus.

Here is a roundup of just a few of the projects that faculty members have been leading.

Nate Huebsch and Jon Silva

The Huebsch and Silva laboratories are collaborating with physicians at the Washington University School of Medicine to identify patients who are at risk for fatal arrhythmia from COVID-19 therapy. Their approach relies on modeling the heart with micro-tissues, understanding what combinations of drugs are dangerous in these tissues, and creating an algorithm to predict patient outcomes. The approach will be tested against data from a clinical study of hospitalized patients whose heartbeats are recorded by a wearable ECG monitor.

Jai Rudra

The average age of patients who died of SARS-CoV-2 is 20 years greater than that for people who tested positive, in agreement with published data for age-related mortality worldwide. Aging is characterized by an age-related immune dysfunction and associated chronic age-related inflammation. Vaccine adjuvants used to boost the systems response to vaccination may produce excess inflammation in older adults that obstructs the immune response and vaccine outcomes. The Rudra lab is engineering supramolecular nanomaterials as inflammation free vaccines for the elderly aimed at generating lung tissue-resident immunity against SARS-CoV-2.

Michael Vahey and Rohit Pappu

Michael Vahey, assistant professor, and Rohit Pappu, the Edwin H. Murty Professor of Engineering, have joined forces to characterize how particles of SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus circulating worldwide, interact with the human version of angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE-2), the host cell receptor responsible for SARS-CoV-2 infection. Through a series of experiments and simulation, they will obtain quantitative assessments of how the virus particles attach to the receptors via their spike proteins and how long they stay attached.
In addition, they will measure the number of ACE-2 receptors the virus particle interacts with on the surface of a cell. Their work is funded by a one-year, $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation for work specifically related to COVID-19.


Vahey and Pappu are also working with Srikanth Singamaneni, professor of mechanical engineering & materials science, to leverage the results from their studies to functionalize model surfaces using peptides derived from the human ACE-2 receptor. The goal is to develop peptide-based sensors that can be used to detect SARS-CoV-2 on surfaces. Vahey, Singamaneni and Pappu work jointly under the auspices of the Center for Science & Engineering of Living Systems (CSELS), an interdisciplinary center funded by the McKelvey School of Engineering. Pappu is the director of CSELS, and Singamaneni and Vahey are members of CSELS.

The McKelvey School of Engineering at Washington University in St. Louis promotes independent inquiry and education with an emphasis on scientific excellence, innovation and collaboration without boundaries. McKelvey Engineering has top-ranked research and graduate programs across departments, particularly in biomedical engineering, environmental engineering and computing, and has one of the most selective undergraduate programs in the country. With 165 full-time faculty, 1,420 undergraduate students, 1,614 graduate students and 21,000 living alumni, we are working to solve some of society’s greatest challenges; to prepare students to become leaders and innovate throughout their careers; and to be a catalyst of economic development for the St. Louis region and beyond.

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