Searching for Scientific Solutions
UCSF researchers are tackling a variety of urgent questions related to the pandemic. They are:
- Guiding safe reopening. UCSF, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and Stanford University have joined forces on two large studies that will provide information crucial to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first study tracks how widespread COVID-19 is in the Bay Area over time. The second study estimates the rate at which health workers with regular exposure to COVID-19 patients develop antibodies – and whether those antibodies prevent the workers from getting sick.
- Evaluating the accuracy of rapid tests. Scientists at UCSF and the Biohub have compared the results of a faster, less expensive SARS-CoV-2 test to those of PCR tests – the most reliable method. Their findings suggest that the 15-minute test, BinaxNOW, is accurate enough to be used exclusively in community testing efforts, given the urgent need to identify those most likely to be infectious. Millions of the rapid tests are now used by public health departments, schools, and workplaces across the country.
- Discovering potential treatments. UCSF researchers have identified more than 60 compounds that might help stop the replication of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, in the human body. Their latest laboratory findings, published in January, revealed that plitidepsin, a multiple myeloma drug used in Australia, is almost 30 times more potent against the novel coronavirus than remdesivir; the pharmaceutical company that first extracted plitidepsin is now testing it in a clinical trial of hospitalized COVID-19 patients in Spain. UCSF scientists are also evaluating whether antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help hospitalized patients fight off active infections. In addition, UCSF researchers have developed a synthetic nanobody that stops the novel coronavirus from infecting human cells and might help patients by reducing their viral load.
- Studying the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy A nationwide study at UCSF – the largest in the country – aims to answer urgent questions that will help improve health care for pregnant women and newborns during the pandemic. The team recently found that 1 in 4 women who test positive for the virus while pregnant experience symptoms (mostly mild) that last longer than two months. Fortunately, infants born to women with COVID-19 have not faced an increased risk of negative health outcomes.
- Understanding the spread of the virus and identifying new strains. UCSF researchers have been using genetic data to track different strains of SARS-CoV-2. The information helps public health officials monitor the spread of the virus and assess whether new genetic mutations are linked to differences in COVID-19 symptoms or severity. UCSF researchers have also examined the dynamics of COVID-19 infection in children’s summer camps to inform school reopening policies.
- Improving antibody tests. Antibodies are useful for detecting past COVID-19 infections and helping scientists understand how to achieve lasting immunity. UCSF researchers are developing antibody-testing techniques that are faster and cheaper than those currently available—with highly accurate results available in just 30 minutes. They are also studying which antibodies are most effective at wiping out the coronavirus, with the hope of creating effective vaccines and using engineered antibodies to treat patients with COVID-19.
For more on UCSF research to conquer COVID-19, visit:
- Thousands of Bay Area Residents Will Be Tested for the Coronavirus in UCSF-Stanford Studies
- UCSF Team Has Discovered Drugs That Block Coronavirus, Paving Way for ‘A Better Drug Sooner’
- Is This the Future of Schools? Kids Learn to Administer Their Own COVID-19 Test
- Allen & Company Gift Jump-Starts Rapid Funding for COVID-19-Related Projects
- ‘AeroNabs’ Promise Powerful, Inhalable Protection Against COVID-19
- Abbott Labs Rolls Out Its BinaxNOW Rapid COVID-19 Test to Schools and Workplaces Nationwide
- COVID-19 Has a Prolonged Effect for Many During Pregnancy
- COVID-19 Variant First Found in Other Countries and States Now Seen More Frequently in California
- The UCSF-Led Team Racing to Find a COVID Cure May Have Found a Promising Candidate
Prioritizing High-Risk Communities
UCSF has launched new efforts to help those most vulnerable to COVID-19. We are:
- Expanding outreach, education, and testing for Latinx, Black, and other vulnerable communities in the Bay Area. UCSF researchers are working with officials and community organizations to test for COVID-19 in low-income neighborhoods throughout San Francisco and Oakland. Latinx people have suffered the highest rates of COVID-19 in the Bay Area, and studies show Black people face increased risks from COVID-19 across the country. Experts attribute the trend to inequalities ranging from overcrowded housing to low-wage jobs that can’t be done from home. The UCSF projects connect low-income people who have tested positive to health care, food, and other supportive services.
- Setting up vaccination campaigns for success. UCSF’s latest community testing efforts have featured a new, secondary goal: getting ready for widespread vaccination. The research team is surveying people about their attitudes and plans related to COVID-19 vaccination, and the resulting insights will inform an upcoming campaign focused on reaching high-risk populations and overcoming misinformation and fears about the vaccines. Researchers are also developing a toolkit to share best practices with health organizations and governments around the country.
- Improving contact tracing. Contact tracing – quickly tracking down everyone with whom a COVID-positive person has had close contact, so they can get tested – can reduce the spread of the virus. But some people have hesitations about sharing contact information with government officials. To help address this challenge, UCSF has launched a new contact-tracing program in partnership with organizations based in the Mission and Bayview neighborhoods. Together, they are deploying trained health workers, many of whom speak Spanish and/or live in the same communities as the COVID-positive people they will reach out to for contact tracing. The project aims to improve contact tracing by increasing trust and timely communication with patients.
- Strengthening pandemic response in low-income countries. UCSF's Global Health Group has launched an initiative to mitigate the widespread devastation that COVID-19 threatens to unleash in low-income countries in Asia and Africa. Because widespread testing will be difficult for most developing countries to afford, the team is identifying emerging hot spots, working with community-based organizations to gather local data on COVID-19 symptoms. In addition, the team is studying which treatments might be most effective against COVID-19 in low-income countries, which lack the resources to provide intensive, hospital-based care on a massive scale.
- Increasing resources to support low-income patients. Shortly after the US outbreak began, UCSF opened a new clinic to meet the needs of homeless people and other underserved populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. We have also covered the expenses of uninsured patients exposed to COVID-19 and provided high-risk, low-income patients with private transport for testing.Shortly after the US outbreak began, UCSF opened a new clinic to meet the needs of homeless people and other underserved populations at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center. We have also covered the expenses of uninsured patients exposed to COVID-19 and provided high-risk, low-income patients with private transport for testing.
- Responding to the Navajo Nation outbreak. Despite the Navajo Nation’s remote location, the US American Indian reservation had the nation’s highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate during the early months of the pandemic. This has created a crisis for Navajo Nation, as many residents live far from well-staffed medical centers or emergency services like ambulances. More than 35 physicians and nurses from UCSF have volunteered in hospitals that have experienced an influx of patients from Navajo Nation.
For more on UCSF’s efforts to meet the needs of high-risk groups, visit:
- Coronavirus Update: 1 In 50 Residents In San Francisco’s Mission Test Positive for COVID-19
- UCSF Sends Second Wave of Health Workers to Navajo Nation
- Flattening the COVID-19 Curve in Low- and Middle-Income Countries
- UCSF Team of Scientists Produces, Distributes Hand Sanitizer for Bay Area's Incarcerated, Most Vulnerable Populations
- Bay Area’s Contact Tracers Struggle Amid Coronavirus Surge
- Latinx Frontline Workers Continue to Show High COVID-19 Rates
Initial Response: Scaling Up Testing and Medical Care
Philanthropy fueled UCSF’s early efforts to safely care for all patients with COVID-19 complications and prepare for a potential influx of new cases. Shortly after the outbreak began, UCSF:
- Created a COVID-19 testing lab from scratch. UCSF collaborators launched a new lab in Mission Bay in just eight days. The facility now processes thousands of diagnostic tests from Bay Area public health departments for free.
- Set up a new facility dedicated to COVID-19 cases, plus four new respiratory clinics across San Francisco. To prepare for a potential surge of severe cases, we worked with our partners to open a new, 40-bed COVID-19 facility at Saint Francis Memorial Hospital.
- Created separate spaces within all UCSF clinics for COVID-19 quarantine and recovery. This reduces the risk of transmission to patients who still need care for other health challenges.
For more on UCSF’s work to quickly expand testing and care for COVID-19, see:
- UCSF Lab Accelerates Processing of Coronavirus Tests in Bay Area, All for No Cost
- UCSF Health Collaborates with City and Local Hospitals to Increase Inpatient Capacity
- Confronting COVID-19: Donors’ Generosity Put to Use at Lightning Speed Across UCSF
Protecting Health Care Workers
Donations have helped UCSF protect health care staff both near and far from COVID-19 in many ways, including:
- Personal protective equipment. UCSF and its supporters established a new supply chain for personal protective equipment (PPE) shortly after the pandemic began – and quickly distributed more than 100,000 protective masks to other health care centers in need.
- Resources to help medical personnel and their families stay healthy. Donations have helped UCSF offer child care and hotel rooms for frontline workers who need these resources most – especially those with vulnerable family members who must be protected from exposure to COVID-19.
- Solutions to the practical challenges of caring for COVID-19 patients. When a COVID-19 patient’s ventilator needs adjustment, health care staff have to enter an isolation room – and the safety protocol takes precious minutes away from other patients who need urgent care. A team of UCSF experts is developing a way to modify the ventilators so they can be controlled from another room, saving time and reducing PPE waste.
For more on frontline workers and our efforts to keep them safe, see:
- As Mask Shortages Loom, Nationwide Team Assembles Best Practices for Decontamination and Reuse
- Low-Cost, Readily Deployable Respirators Could Help Frontline Health Care Workers
- Marc Benioff’s $25 Million Blitz to Buy Protective Gear from China
Last Update: February 1, 2021