Searching for Scientific Solutions
UCSF researchers are tackling a variety of urgent questions related to the pandemic. They are:
- Diagnosing COVID-19 in under an hour. Scientists at UCSF have created an inexpensive new test that can diagnose COVID-19 in about 45 minutes. If approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), it could help officials rapidly increase testing for active infections. The developers hope to produce a kit that can be used for on-site testing in a variety of locations, from airports to schools.
- Investigating the accuracy of antibody tests. As people struggle with the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns, many are eager to take antibody tests. But a UCSF-led study recently revealed that all but one of 14 current antibody tests sometimes led to false positives – indicating antibodies in people who had none. Additional research is needed to identify which antibody tests will be most useful.
- Getting the information needed to guide reopening. UCSF, the Chan Zuckerberg Biohub, and Stanford University are joining forces on two large studies that will provide information crucial to the management of the COVID-19 pandemic. The first study will track how widespread COVID-19 is in the Bay Area over time. The second study will estimate the rate at which people with regular exposure to COVID-19 patients develop antibodies – and whether those antibodies prevent the workers from getting sick.
- Identifying potential treatments. UCSF researchers recently 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 tests found several drugs show promise in blocking the virus. UCSF scientists are also testing whether antibodies from people who have recovered from COVID-19 can help hospitalized patients fight off active infections.
- Studying the risks of COVID-19 during pregnancy. A nationwide study at UCSF aims to answer urgent questions that will help improve health care for pregnant women and newborns during the pandemic. More than 800 women have enrolled so far. Because black women in the US die during pregnancy or childbirth at three to four times the rate of white women, the research team is working with community groups to recruit more women of color. They are also providing opportunities for them to shape the study, weighing in on the questions that are most important to them.
- Understanding the spread of the virus. UCSF researchers have been using genetic data to track different strains of SARS-CoV-2. While it is not clear that genetic differences in the virus lead to any differences in COVID-19 symptoms or severity, the information helps public health officials monitor the spread of the virus and identify patterns.
- Investing in new research. In early April, UCSF’s flagship program for discovery science, the Program for Breakthrough Biomedical Research (PBBR), released a request for proposals related to the pandemic. In just a few days, the PBBR team received 112 proposals from across the university, and they quickly selected 23 projects for funding.
For more on UCSF research to conquer COVID-19, visit:
- Scientists Tap CRISPR’s Search-and-Detect Skills to Create a Rapid COVID-19 Test
- Coronavirus Antibody Tests: Can You Trust the Results?
- 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’
- Virus Disrupts Pregnancy Plans, Raises Anxiety and Questions
- COVID-19 Arrived in Seattle. Where It Went from There Stunned the Scientists.
Prioritizing High-Risk Communities
UCSF has launched new efforts to help those most vulnerable to COVID-19. We are:
- 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.
- Expanding outreach, education, and testing for Latinx communities in the Bay Area. When UCSF researchers partnered with officials and community organizations to test for COVID-19 in the Mission District, they found a rate 11 times higher than the city average. Almost all the infected people identified as Hispanic or Latinx. Experts attribute the trend to inequalities ranging from overcrowded housing to low-wage jobs that can’t be done from home. The testing project connects low-income people who have tested positive to health care, food, and other supportive services.
- Responding to the Navajo Nation outbreak. Despite the Navajo Nation’s remote location, the US American Indian reservation now has the nation’s highest per-capita COVID-19 infection rate. This poses a crisis for Navajo Nation, as many residents live far from well-staffed medical centers or emergency services like ambulances. More than 30 physicians and nurses from UCSF are now volunteering in hospitals that have experienced an influx of patients from Navajo Nation.
- 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.
- Producing hand sanitizer for people who need it most. UCSF scientists have provided alcohol-based hand sanitizer to people who face unique challenges to protecting themselves from the spread of COVID-19. Most of the 1,000-plus gallons of sanitizer have been sent to prisons and jails in California, with the remainder going to people living in homeless shelters.
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
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.
- Decontamination best practices. A team of 60 US scientists – including three UCSF faculty members – has developed best practices for PPE decontamination and reuse to help all health care workers facing PPE shortages protect themselves from COVID-19.
- 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.
- Low-cost, easy-to-scale respirators. UCSF physicians are working with UC Berkeley bioengineers to test a low-cost version of a powered air-purified respirator (PAPR), a device that can reduce the risk of airborne virus transmission more effectively than N95 masks can. PAPRs usually run up to $2,000 each, but the new prototype uses readily available parts and costs only about $200 to build.
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: June 15, 2020