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Your Environment. Your Health.

Special COVID-19 Supplements and Activities

Superfund Research Program

The Superfund Research Program (SRP) is a network of multi-disciplinary scientists combining expertise in biomedical, environmental science and engineering, community engagement, and data management. SRP researchers provide practical, scientific solutions for pressing global public health issues. Through this multidisciplinary framework, grantees rapidly pivoted their research and expanded their collaborations to apply their knowledge to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In response to the rapidly evolving nature of the pandemic, SRP provided supplemental funding to Centers to expand upon the foundation established under their existing SRP grants to meet immediate needs to address the public health crisis. Another type of funding mechanism, which is part of the NIH’s Rapid Acceleration of Diagnosis for Underserved Populations (RADx-Up) Initiative was made available to encourage researchers to develop and implement technologies for COVID-19 testing in underserved populations. These projects provided grantees the opportunity to leverage the SRP Center infrastructure to pivot their research to contribute to the national response to public health emergencies.

COVID and RADx-UP Supplements

Impact of Airborne heavy metals on lung disease and the environment

Institution: University of Alabama Birmingham
PI: Antony, Veena B
Grant Number: 3 P42 ES027723-01 

The University of Alabama SRP Center is developing biofriendly reusable facemasks for the prevention of exposure to the SARS-CoV-2 virus for local Birmingham communities and health care workers. This supplement stems from the Center’s current research to develop natural and recycled fiber materials to filter out metal contaminants in soil. The objective of this project is to make reusable, low-cost biodegradable masks that meet regulatory standards for N95 filters to capture and kill the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Using regenerated natural cellulose fiber from wood pulp, the team will develop and test the new masks before sending them out to local communities and health care workers to further optimize the design for ease of use. This project is a collaboration between the University of Alabama Birmingham and the University of Tennessee, Oak Ridge National Laboratory.

Center for Environmental and Health Effects of PFAS

Institution:  North Carolina State University
PI: Carolyn Mattingly
Project leader: Jane A. Hoppin
Grant number: 3 P42ES031009-01S1 

Photograph of researcher placing samples in a bin next to a cooler. NCSU researchers collected biological samples from two North Carolina communities. (Photo courtesy of the NCSU SRP Center)

NCSU researchers collected biological samples from two North Carolina communities.
(Photo courtesy of the NCSU SRP Center)

North Carolina State University (NCSU) SRP Center grantees are expanding the scope of their research with two North Carolina communities exposed to per- and poly-fluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) to better understand the effects of COVID-19. Specifically, they will characterize COVID-19 disease, antibodies, symptoms, and severity within the population. Their work includes a two-stage blood sampling, antibody tests, and regular questionnaires on a cohort of 1,000 individuals representing a broad age range (6-86 years old). The researchers plan to work with community partners, local non-governmental organizations, and health departments to report back their results to the community. Given that PFAS suppress immune function, they are also leveraging their existing research to assess how individuals exposed to high levels of PFAS may differ in their response to SARS-CoV-2 exposure. If a vaccine is available by the time of the second blood collection in summer 2021, they will also explore how individuals exposed to PFAS differ in their response to the vaccine.

Genetics and quantum chemistry as tools for unknown metabolite identification

Institution:  University of Georgia
PI: Arthur Edison
Grant number:  3 UC2 ES 03167-03S2 

Researchers from the University of Georgia, in collaboration with Erin Baker, Ph.D., from the North Carolina State University SRP Center, are examining the impact of PFAS exposure on viral susceptibility and COVID-19 disease severity. This project stems from an NIH-funded co-infection study to characterize how co-infection to other respiratory viruses affects the severity of SARS-CoV-2 in ferrets. The researchers will expand their current research by exposing ferrets to PFAS before SARS-CoV-2 infection. They will explore how PFAS exposure alters susceptibility to the virus and its outcomes by looking at changes in metabolites and PFAS. The team plans to make its data publicly available through a COVID-19 Metabolomics Slack workspace to allow other researchers to utilize it for other research questions.

Detection and models of toxicant exposure

Institution:  University of California, San Diego
PI: Robert H. Tukey
Grant number: 3 P42 ES010337-19S1 

University of California, San Diego SRP Center researchers are leveraging current work identifying molecular targets for reducing an inflammatory immune response in cancer to explore new treatment options to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with COVID-19.  Using nanotechnology, they will develop and test a novel strategy to repurpose the anti-inflammatory drug, metformin, to reduce acute respiratory distress from COVID-19 in mice. Metformin is commonly used to treat type 2 diabetes and has been found to inhibit the NLRP3 inflammasome, which could prevent lung inflammation. The group will also evaluate the role of obesity, triclosan exposure, and old age in increasing severity of respiratory distress associated with COVID-19 in mice.

Harnessing technological innovation and community-engaged implementation science to optimize covid-19 testing for women and children in underserved communities

Institution:  University of California, San Diego
PI: Robert H. Tukey
Grant number: 3 P42ES010337-19S2 

Grantees at the University of California, San Diego SRP Center received a RADx-UP award to implement a program for widespread testing in an underserved community in San Diego County, focusing on young children and pregnant women. The San Ysidro community sits on the US-Mexico border and has been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, with the highest incidence of cases in San Diego County and a shortage of testing. Through a partnership with San Ysidro Health, the largest healthcare system in the community, families will be engaged in COVID-19 testing during prenatal and immunization visits. The researchers will work closely with community members to identify and address barriers to testing uptake, and to implement and evaluate relevant strategies to accelerate delivery of COVID-19 testing.

Mechanisms of arsenic exposure on the severity/virality of SARS-CoV-2 infection

Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
PI: Fry, Rebecca
Grant Number: 3 P42ES031007-01S2 

Diagram of humanized mice model that metabolizes arsenic in a similar manner to that in humans. UNC Chapel Hill researchers developed a humanized mice model that metabolizes arsenic in a manner similar to that in humans. (Image courtesy of the UNC Chapel Hill SRP Center)

UNC Chapel Hill researchers developed a humanized mice model that metabolizes arsenic in a manner similar to that in humans.
(Photo courtesy of the UNC Chapel Hill SRP Center)

University of North Carolina (UNC), Chapel Hill SRP Center researchers are expanding their research to explore the underlying mechanism by which exposure to arsenic alters the severity of SARS-CoV-2 infection and severity of COVID-19. The researchers will characterize interactions between arsenic exposure and SARS-CoV-2 infection utilizing novel in vivo and in vitro laboratory models previously researched by the group to study arsenic exposure. Specifically, in their in vitro study they will use human nasal epithelial cells from female and male donors to test if exposure to arsenic enhances SARS-CoV-2 infection. The in vivo study will examine immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and mortality in a novel humanized mouse model, in which the metabolism of arsenic resembles that in humans, exposed to arsenic in drinking water. The researchers will also examine the role of sex and genetic background in disease outcome.

A Geographical Information System (GIS)-based study on arsenic exposure, social stressors, and COVID-19 disease risk in North Carolina

Institution: University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
PI: Fry, Rebecca
Grant Number: 3 P42ES031007-01S1 

The University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill SRP Center Data Analysis and Management Core (DMAC) is developing a GIS approach to evaluate the association between exposure to arsenic, social stressors, and COVID-19 disease in North Carolina. This supplement builds on the activities of the DMAC to address the fundamental knowledge gap in understanding environmental contributions to the COVID-19 burden. Using ArcGIS, the group will integrate data on arsenic in drinking water, COVID-19 cases, and social stressors to identify particularly vulnerable areas and opportunities for prevention approaches. As a major output of this project, the researchers will develop the NC-ENVIRO-SCAN web portal, an open-access public health tool to disseminate findings to community members and stakeholders.

Other COVID-19 Research Activities by SRP Grantees

Louisiana State University

PI: Stephania Cormier

Photograph of two researchers standing in a lab. Researchers at the LSU River Road Testing Lab organize viral testing kits. (Photo courtesy of the LSU SRP Center)

Researchers at the LSU River Road Testing Lab organize viral testing kits.
(Photo courtesy of the LSU SRP Center)

Louisiana State University (LSU) SRP Center Director Stephania Cormier, Ph.D., and colleagues opened the LSU River Road Testing Lab, a new COVID-19 test lab to help ease the burden on Louisiana hospitals. The testing lab currently serves 18 medical facilities. This is partly funded by the Baton Rouge Health District.

Cormier and colleagues developed a saliva-based test to help track COVID-19 in K-12 school children and teachers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. This is part of a pilot program to add to the growing data from LSU researchers and other scientists about how saliva-based testing can be used for COVID-19 surveillance in schools.

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Oregon State University

PI: Katrina Waters

Researcher holding a multichannel pipette device over racks of tubes. Oregon State University researchers at PNNL identify biomarkers of COVID-19 disease. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon State University SRP Center)

Oregon State University researchers at PNNL identify biomarkers of COVID-19 disease.
(Photo courtesy of the Oregon State University SRP Center)

Oregon State SRP Center Deputy Director Katrina Waters, Ph.D., is coordinating the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) response to COVID-19. These projects are funded by the United States Department of Energy.

At the request of King County, Washington, SRP researchers at PNNL assisted with the set up of an incident response and control center and established a COVID-19 testing laboratory to identify patients in most need of urgent care.

Waters is leading a multi-laboratory effort focused on SARS-CoV-2 fate and transport to understand how the virus travels in the environment and how factors such as humidity and temperature affect its transmission.

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PI: Justin Teeguarden

Justin Teeguarden, Ph.D., and collaborators are expanding the focus of the Biomedical resilience and Readiness in Adverse Operating Environments (BRAVE) program to monitor the health and performance of first responders during the COVID-19 pandemic. The researchers look at molecular patterns to determine vulnerability for disease.

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University of California, Berkley

PI: Daniel Nomura

UC Berkley SRP Center grantee Daniel Nomura, Ph.D., and colleagues are collaborating with the pharmaceutical company Novartis, to discover new antiviral therapeutics for COVID-19. The team is expanding their work to develop enzyme inhibitors that bind to and block an essential enzyme of SARS-CoV-2, known as Mpro, which is critical for replication. The Nomura lab has spent the past 3 years collaborating with Novartis on drug discovery.

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PI: Jill Banfield

UC Berkeley SRP Center grantee Jill Banfield, Ph.D., was awarded an Innovative Genomics Institute Rapid Response Research Fund grant to study early detection of COVID-19 reemergence in municipal wastewater. The team is developing methods to accurately measure viral strains of SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, to elucidate which viral strains are circulating in communities and if new strains are being introduced. 

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PI: Alan Hubbard

UC Berkley SRP Center researcher Alan Hubbard, Ph.D., and collaborators are using computer modeling and statistical analysis to facilitate COVID-19 outbreak projections. Through this project, the researcher will use statistical models to uncover the factors that most affect SARS-CoV-2 transmission. The researchers will also develop the Data and Scenario Analysis (DASA) platform, an analytical public health tool for policymakers and epidemiological research.  This work is made possible by a National Science Foundation (NSF) RAPID grant.

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University of California, San Diego

PI: Ilya Zaslavsky

UC San Diego SRP Center grantee Ilya Zaslavsky, Ph.D., and collaborators are integrating biomedical and environmental datasets to learn more about the characteristics and spread of COVID-19. The researchers are building a knowledge graph to show how different strains of SARS-CoV-2 spread through communities. With additional support from an NSF RAPID award, the team is developing an online dashboard that will help users access and query the data. They will integrate tools that use public health, pathogen, and environmental datasets and models.

The team also launched an online community data sharing effort, through which people can suggest publicly accessible datasets to include in the graph, contribute applications to enhance graph content, and add knowledge graph analysis and query tools.

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Rohit Loomba

In collaboration with the Pfizer pharmaceutical company, UC San Diego SRP researcher Rohit Loomba, Ph.D., initiated a multicenter clinical trial to examine effectiveness of the drug Ramipril against COVID-19. Rampiril works by blocking proteins that drive inflammation and tissue injury in the lung, the primary site of SARS-CoV-2 infection.

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University of Kentucky

PI: Dibakar Bhattacharyya

photograph of two researchers standing in front of a computer

Bhattacharyya received an NSF RAPID Award to develop antiviral masks.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Kentucky SRP Center)

University of Kentucky SRP Center project lead Dibakar Bhattacharyya, Ph.D., is developing an antiviral membrane mask to capture and deactivate Sars-CoV-2 proteins. The project builds off the team’s earlier work to develop membranes to remove hazardous chemicals from the environment. This study is partly funded by NSF.

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Columbia University

PI: Beizhan Yan

Columbia University SRP Center researchers Beizhan Yan, Ph.D., and Steve Chillrud, Ph.D., tested a simple method to disinfect and reuse disposable masks. They also compared the effectiveness of medical-grade masks with homemade ones and investigated the feasibility of improving masks with homemade nose clips.

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University of Iowa

PI: Peter Thorne

Photograph of a 3D printed anti-viral respirator mask. University of Iowa researchers are testing candidate materials to capture broad range particles. (Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa SRP Center)

University of Iowa researchers are testing candidate materials to capture broad range particles.
(Photo courtesy of the University of Iowa SRP Center)

Peter Thorne, Ph.D., of the University of Iowa SRP Center received funding from the United States Department of Veteran Affairs to evaluate the performance of air filtering materials for use in a 3D printed respirator. The objective of this project is to produce a reusable respirator with performance approaching that of the N95 mask.

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Boston University

PI: Jonathan Levy

Boston University SRP Center researchers created a data visualization and mapping tool for daily COVID-19 cases across Massachusetts. The tool, which also includes information on environmental stressors, can identify areas of need and help allocate resources appropriately during the COVID-19 crisis.

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TAMU, NC State, NIEHS Collaboration

Texas A&M University

Weihsueh Chiu and Ivan Rusyn

North Carolina State University

Skylar Marvel, Fred Wright, Yihui Zhou, and Kuncheng Song and David Reif

Graph from the PVI dashboard showing Low and High PVI county scores for all 3142 counties in the United States

The PVI dashboard creates data visualizations to identify COVID-19 hotspots.
(Photo courtesy of NIEHS)

Alison Motsinger-Reif, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Biostatistics and Computational Branch, collaborated with researchers from the Texas A&M SRP, NC State SRP to develop the COVID-19 Pandemic Vulnerability Index (PVI). The PVI dashboard is an innovative tool to visualize and communicate COVID-19 data and identify areas vulnerable to the disease.

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Northeastern University

PI: Emma Fernandez-Repollet

Northeastern University SRP grantees at the Center for Collaborative Research in Health Disparities at University of Puerto Rico are examining the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak in pregnancy related experiences and outcomes, including mental health impacts. The study will assess how the isolation and physical distancing measures related to the coronavirus pandemic have affected pregnant women and mother of children 12 months or younger. They will also identify risk and protective factors to COVID-19. Participants will be recruited from the Puerto Rico Test-site for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT). Using their findings, the researchers hope to lead to the development of interventions for local community health centers and the creation of evidence-based protocols aimed at the Puerto Rican population. This project is partly funded by SRP and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities.

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COVID-19 Publications by SRP Grantees

University of California, Davis

PI: Bruce Hammock

UC Davis SRP Center researchers led by Bruce Hammock, Ph.D., discovered a drug that may control the body’s inflammatory response to COVID-19 and could help patients recover. This study is partly funded by SRP, NIEHS, and the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

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Tingrui Pan

UC Davis SRP Center researchers led by Tingrui Pan, Ph.D., designed a low-cost clinically viable ventilator that can be used during pandemic and mass-casualty events. The ventilator, called AmbuBox, is easy to assemble and relies on readily available technologies. This design addresses the global need for inexpensive ventilators to treat acute respiratory distress syndrome associated with COVID-19. The team will further investigate a mass-production prototype through clinical testing. Given the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic, the researchers described a full list of components and detailed fabrication and assembly steps in an open-access publication.

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University of California, San Diego

PI: Rohit Loomba

UC San Diego SRP grantee Rohit Loomba collaborated in a publication to highlight the role of the renin-angiotensin system (RAS) pathway in treating severe cases COVID-19 cases. The RAS pathway plays a central role in regulating blood pressure, homeostasis, cell growth, and metabolism. The authors explained key features of SARS-CoV-2 infection and why certain patients, like those with age-associated co-morbidities, have greater morbidity and mortality. They also discuss the benefits of drugs that target the RAS pathway for treating age-associated conditions that enhance susceptibility for severe COVID-19.

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University of Kentucky

PI: Anna Hoover

University of Kentucky SRP researchers, in collaboration with Wendy Heiger-Bernays from the Boston University SRP Center, applied their knowledge of stakeholder input uncertainty to help guide schools in implementing re-opening strategies. In a recent publication, the team leveraged their research on communities exposed to hazardous waste to foster informed decisions and determine the control measures most appropriate for school systems. The authors discuss the role of ventilation and risk communication, among other measures to reduce SARS-CoV2 exposure risk in schools.

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