Roswell Park, Catholic Health, UB unite for COVID-19 study

Apr 23, 2020

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and several partners are taking on research into Coronavirus detection and treatment, using a strategy that has been employed in detective and treating cancer.

Two forms of COVID-19 testing being conducted today, scientists explained, involve detection of active infections and the presence of antibodies in those previously infected but recovered. The joint effort involving Roswell Park, the University at Buffalo, Catholic Health System and technology supplier Thermo Fisher Scientific will collect blood samples and study not the antibodies, but rather the cells which create them.

Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center and three partners are launching a study with the hope of developing a blood test which will detect who among future COVID-19 cases will be at the most risk for severe complications or death.
Credit WBFO file photo

"Our study is focused on the fact that if we could look at these B and T cells, using some advanced technology, that we could predict if you become infected or get exposed to COVID-19, who's not gonna get sick, who's going to get the usual flu like symptoms, and then who is potentially going to become very ill and possibly even die," said Dr. Carl Morrison of Roswell Park.

The problem with other tests, Dr. Morrison explained, is that they're only valid at the time of the test. The ultimate goal is to create a blood test that patients might take about once a year to determine their risk for serious illness if infected by COVID-19.

Protocols for the study have been approved, said Roswell Park's Dr. Kunle Odunsi, and the first samples could be collected by next week. Among the sources for sample collection with be patients within the Catholic Health System, which Odunsi pointed out is running a COVID treatment campus at St. Joseph's Hospital in Cheektowaga.

"We treated close to half, if not more than half, of the COVID-19 population in Western New York," said the Catholic Health System's Dr. Hans Cassagnol. "We're really, really excited, to say the least, to actually take partnership of this."

The study is expected to take mere months. Funding for the project, Dr. Odunsi said, was provided by a $150,000 gift from the 11 Day Power Play, the not-for-profit organization which runs an annual hockey event to raise money for cancer research and organizations which offer related support services.

Thermo Fisher Scientific will defray costs, officials announced, through its provision of sequencing technology and materials. University at Buffalo is serving as the academic partner, which brings into the project its own global connections.

"We're also connected throughout the state with the other SUNY health centers, and we have collaborations with our affiliate centers, in Kingston, Jamaica, as well as Harare, Zimbabwe," said Dr. Gene Morse of the University at Buffalo. "Many of the things that we'll be doing, we'll be able to introduce there as well."

Dr. Morrison suggested the study could create future economic benefits, by developing a test that will help determine how best - and who will be in the best condition - to return to work in the event of a COVID-related shutdown.