The Department of Epidemiology and Public Health (EPH) at the University of Maryland School of Medicine was recently awarded $900,000 for COVID-19 research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The funding will be used by faculty in the Department’s Division of Genomic Epidemiology and Clinical Outcomes for research to help identify the most effective measures for COVID-19 infection control in healthcare settings.
The Division of Genomic Epidemiology and Clinical Outcomes (GECO) has been named one of the 11 CDC Centers of Excellence on Infection Control in the United States, with faculty who are world leaders in hospital epidemiology, genomic epidemiology, and infectious disease prevention. Members of the division include physicians who direct infection control and hospital epidemiology at the University of Maryland Medical Center and the VA Maryland Healthcare System, as well as researchers from UMSOM's Institute of Genome Sciences.
The team of UMSOM researchers from GECO who will head the three CDC projects include: Anthony Harris, MD, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, and Division Head, Health Care Outcomes Research; Mary Claire Roghmann, MD, MS, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, Associate Dean For Trans-Disciplinary Research, and Associate Dean For Physician-Scientist Training; and Dan Morgan, MD, MS, Professor of Epidemiology & Public Health, and Chief of Hospital Epidemiology at the VA Maryland Healthcare System.
“We are aiming to not only implement the best infection control procedures, but also to conduct research to help determine whether our procedures, can be refined to be even more effective,” said Dr. Harris, who is the Principal Investigator on the grant. “Our team of hospital epidemiologists has been working non-stop, seven days a week across UMMS and the VA healthcare system to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.”
As part of the CDC award, Dr. Harris and his team plan to continue their clinical research to measure the prevalence of COVID-19 antibodies among healthcare personnel in the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS). Their aim is to determine workplace risk factors that led to positive antibody tests (signs of a previous COVID-19 infection) among healthcare personnel. They also plan to track changes in antibody levels over time among healthcare personnel who carry these antibodies.
Dr. Roghmann, was awarded funding to track the prevalence of COVID-19 infections among nursing homes in the months ahead, determining which factors (such as staffing levels, visitor restrictions, and use of PPE) have the largest impact on transmission among residents and staff. This is a continuation of her research on evaluating the impact of interventions to prevent the introduction or spreading of COVID-19 into long-term care facilities. She has been helping the CDC develop guidelines on best practices for preventing infections in nursing homes, including the targeted use of gloves, gowns, and other personal protective equipment (PPE) in caring for patients deemed to be at increased risk. While her studies initially focused on protecting against antibiotic-resistant bacteria, she is now focusing on preventing COVID-19 transmission in these facilities.
“Hospital epidemiologists are crucial to the control of COVID-19,” says Dr. Roghmann. “Our research may not be as high profile as developing a new anti-viral drug or new vaccine, but at this stage of the pandemic, we are critical players in preventing the spread of infection in health care facilities. We help keep doctors, nurses, and patients safe.”
A third avenue of research involves assessing the role of different testing strategies for guiding infection prevention and control of COVID-19. Dr. Morgan and his colleagues will develop a website to serve as a public resource that aims to summarize existing information on sensitivity, specificity, and clinical application of COVID-19 diagnostic tests and COVID-19 antibody tests. The site will provide a singular source of information to guide more appropriate use of tests and testing. “This web-based tool will provide a singular source of information to guide more appropriate use of tests and testing,” Dr. Morgan said.
The Genomic Epidemiology and Clinical Outcomes faculty are actively involved in the public health response to COVID-19 by working as part of the UMMC/UMB coronavirus response team co-led by Gregory M. Schrank, MD, Assistant Professor, Department of Medicine, and Co-Chair, UMMC/UMB Coronavirus Response, University of Maryland Medical Center, and David Marcozzi, MD, MHS-CL, FACEP, Associate Professor, Departments of Emergency Medicine and Epidemiology and Public Health, and Assistant Chief Medical Officer for Acute Care and Associate Chair of Population Health and Community Outreach.
“I am so proud of our faculty members who have been serving a key role directing the COVID response at the University of Maryland Medical System,” said E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, Executive Vice President for Medical Affairs, UM Baltimore, and the John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers Distinguished Professor and Dean, University of Maryland School of Medicine. “These new research efforts that they are undertaking will help better inform our nation’s next phase of the COVID pandemic response.”
About the University of Maryland School of Medicine
Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was chartered in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. It continues today as one of the fastest growing, top-tier biomedical research enterprises in the world -- with 45 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs; and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and the National Academy of Sciences, and a distinguished two-time winner of the Albert E. Lasker Award in Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.2 billion, the School of Medicine works closely in partnership with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinically based care for nearly 2 million patients each year. The School of Medicine has more than $540 million in extramural funding, with most of its academic departments highly ranked among all medical schools in the nation in research funding. As one of the seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland, Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has a total population of nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 student trainees, residents, and fellows. The combined School of Medicine and Medical System (“University of Maryland Medicine”) has an annual budget of nearly $6 billion and an economic impact more than $15 billion on the state and local community. The School of Medicine faculty, which ranks as the 8th highest among public medical schools in research productivity, is an innovator in translational medicine, with 600 active patents and 24 start-up companies. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally, and globally, with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. Visit medschool.umaryland.edu