When a novel coronavirus appeared in late 2019, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital began to monitor the outbreak. This virus was officially named by World Health Organization as SARS-CoV-2.
St. Jude began preparing and implementing plans to protect its patients, families and staff from what would soon be called COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. St. Jude Global, in partnership with the International Society of Paediatric Oncology (SIOP), created a global registry of cases of childhood cancer and COVID-19. The Global COVID-19 Observatory and Resource Center for Childhood Cancer helps clinicians and researchers learn about the impact of the virus on this vulnerable population.
St. Jude is also hosting a U.S. registry of pediatric cases of COVID-19. The network is part of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society.
The following experts are available to offer credible information on COVID-19, including basic research and clinical insight, as well as efforts to determine its effect on children with cancer.
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After several years of working with pediatric HIV patients, Aditya Gaur’s role as medical director of the St. Jude Department of Occupational Health has also put him on the front lines of the hospital’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Gaur is part of a team that has led the hospital’s testing and prevention initiatives for COVID-19.
In addition to his work in detecting and preventing COVID-19 infections among St. Jude faculty and staff members, Gaur recently began working with Jansen Pharmaceutical Companies’ Phase 3 clinical study evaluating the safety and efficacy of the company’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate.
Since January 2020, Hana Hakim, MD, medical director of St. Jude Infection Prevention and Control, has been studying COVID-19 and how St. Jude as an organization would respond to the pandemic. Hakim is part of a team that worked on the St. Jude response to what would become a worldwide pandemic. That response has evolved as more is learned about the virus.
Hakim was also part of a team that helped design and build a mobile testing center for St. Jude employees in the St. Jude Garden. The center tests hundreds of employees daily and results are available in 24 hours in most cases.
As the deputy medical director of Occupational Health, Diego Hijano, MD, is the COVID-19 Case Investigation & Contact Tracing Lead for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. He created, developed and sustains a program for COVID-19 case investigation and contact tracing that follows CDC and Tennessee-Department of Health guidelines. The program is compliant with The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations and fits the specific needs, values and culture of St. Jude. As the primary investigator for the St. Jude study for patients with COVID-19, he also trains, coordinates and leads 14 volunteers to investigate cases and conduct contact tracing at St Jude.
“Regardless of testing, we must not abandon at this point the pillars of public health: use of masks, physical distance and frequent hand washing,” Diego Hijano, PhD.
Diego Hijano, PhD, cautioned that a negative Covid-19 test should not be considered a “fail-safe reassurance that you are not sick.” He recommends individuals should quarantine upon arrival only if they think they’ve been exposed to the virus, in which case “you should immediately cancel the trip.”
Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, PhD, the vice chair of the Immunology department, has discovered that two inflammation-stimulating proteins (or cytokines), specifically TNF-alpha and gamma interferon, working together trigger inflammatory cell death that can lead to tissue damage, organ failure and death. Blocking these cytokines protected mice infected with SARS-CoV-2—the virus that causes COVID-19—from dying. Her lab's research suggests that drugs already available to treat some autoimmune diseases, such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, and rheumatoid and psoriatic arthritis, offer a possible new treatment strategy for patients with COVID-19.
“Understanding the pathways and mechanism driving this inflammation is critical to develop effective treatment strategies,” Thirumala-Devi Kanneganti, PhD.
Gabriela Maron Alfaro, MD, of the Infectious Diseases department, leads the St. Jude coordinating center for a U.S. registry collecting information on pediatric cases of COVID-19. The network, part of the Pediatric Infectious Diseases Society, includes St. Jude, the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Seattle Children’s Hospital and Chicago Children’s Hospital.
Stacey Schultz-Cherry, PhD, a faculty member in the Infectious Diseases department of St. Jude, is also deputy director of the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds and co-director of the U.S. Center of Excellence for Influenza Research and Surveillance. She studies how influenza viruses and astroviruses (gastrointestinal) make people sick, as well as microbial co-infections, novel vaccines and therapeutics. In a recent study of obese mice, she showed how obesity makes vaccines less protective, flu illness more severe and treatments less effective. Schultz-Cherry can provide information associated with increased efficacy in flu vaccines and new research surrounding global initiatives for better treatments of more vulnerable populations.
Paul Thomas, PhD, is a faculty member of the Immunology department at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. His research interests include innate and adaptive immunity to influenza, T cell receptor types in infectious and cancerous states, and influenza-associated, immune-induced healing responses and pathology. He is a principal investigator of an international study to understand how someone’s first exposure to flu, whether by infection or vaccine, can affect their immune responses for the rest of their lives. Thomas can provide insight into what shapes the immune response to the virus throughout the person’s life and better methods to treat influenza. He has recently published research about the body’s immune response to COVID-19.
Richard Webby, PhD, faculty in the Infectious Diseases department at St. Jude, directs the World Health Organization Collaborating Centre for Studies on the Ecology of Influenza in Animals and Birds. He is an internationally recognized expert on swine influenza, a group of viruses that led to the emergence of the 2009 pandemic H1N1 virus. Webby can provide information on novel vaccine approaches, influenza virus ecology, influenza virus pathogenicity and determinants of host susceptibility to influenza.
“Experts, including myself, believe the combination of both the coronavirus and influenza virus swirling together throughout the US this fall and winter has the potential to exacerbate the strain on an already struggling public health system,” Richard Webby, PhD.
“With winter coming up and the expected arrival of flu brings us potential that we’re going to have two of these viruses causing the same symptoms putting twice the pressure on our health-care infrastructure,” Richard Webby PhD.