ASIP Member Dr. James Musser featured for COVID-19 Research

James Musser, MD, spoke with The New York Times about how COVID-19’s genetic code plays a vital role in controlling the virus.

Since last March, a team of researchers led by Dr. James Musser, chair of the department of pathology and genomic medicine at Houston Methodist Hospital, have been sequencing the viral genomes drawn from patients — 20,000 genomes so far. This new study has found that every coronavirus variant of concern to researchers around the world has been circulating in Houston at a low level for at least six to eight weeks. Houston is the first U.S. city to find all of the variants, including those recently reported in California and New York and the ones found in Brazil, Britain and South Africa.

The discovery mainly highlights how little is actually known about the variants — their true whereabouts, prevalence and impact — as no other American city has the data in place to make such a survey possible.

Dr. Musser said the team had also analyzed detailed information on the infected patients. By linking the data sets, scientists can begin to ask vital questions: How do these variants affect the ability of the virus to spread, if at all? Do they make the symptoms any more or less severe? Are they any more or less resistant to vaccines, pre-existing immunity or treatment with monoclonal antibodies?

Before the pandemic took off in Houston, the team had set up a plan to match any variant it found with the clinical course of patients infected with it.

“If you don’t have the sequencing matched up with patient data, they are far, far less interesting, if not uninterpretable,” Dr. Musser said.

To Dr. Musser’s knowledge, Houston is the only city with the patient and sequencing data to address those questions. Iceland is undertaking a similar effort, he said, and he expects Israel to do so, also.

So far, researchers have tried to infer the effect of variants by looking at their prevalence in different populations and by doing laboratory studies. Those can provide important clues, Dr. Musser said, but to make the best use of those data, they must be linked to patient data.

Some critics, including Dr. Eric Topol, the founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, have said that the attention given to the succession of new variants — “scariants,” he has called them — has done little more than frighten the public.

Dr. Musser agreed, referring to such reports as “mutant porn.” Highlighting the existence of variants without indicating whether they make any functional difference to real-world patients was no more enlightening than collecting stamps or identifying the birds flying overhead, he said: “‘There’s a bird. There’s another bird.’”

He added: “I think the crucial thing in all of this is that it is extraordinarily difficult for both the medical and lay public to really sort through all this noise about variants. At the end of the day, does any of this mean a hill of beans to anyone?”

James M. Musser, MD, PhD is the Past-President for the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) and a Past-President of the American Society for Investigative Pathology (ASIP). He currently serves as Chair of the Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine and the Director of the Center for Molecular and Translational Human Infectious Diseases Research at Houston Methodist. Dr. Musser was the recipient of the 2017 ASIP Rous Whipple Award, the 2007 ASIP Chugai Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Scholarship, and the 1999 ASIP Outstanding Investigator Award.

Scientists have a powerful new tool for controlling the coronavirus: Its own genetic code.

Warning: This graphic requires JavaScript. Please enable JavaScript for the best experience. The six British patients seemed to have little in common besides this: Each was dealing with kidney failure, and each had tested positive for the coronavirus. They were among scores of virus-stricken people showing up at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge in the early weeks of April.

Covid-19 News: Supplies of Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Will Be Limited at First, Officials Warn

One day after federal regulators authorized Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine for emergency use, senior Biden administration officials warned Sunday that the supply of the new vaccine would be highly uneven for the next month.


Pathologists Fighting COVID

Dr. Musser

#PISA2020 Day 5

#PISA2020 Day 5

Trainee Advising SessionRichard N. Mitchell, MD, PhD * Brigham & Women’s HospitalWhat’s up with an MD/PhD and Am I Competitive?Individuals with both MD and P…

Program

Yesterday was another full day of science, mentoring, and networking at PISA 2020. With Day 4 of the meeting in the books, we find ourselves at Day 5 – the final day of PISA 2020.

TODAY at PISA 2020, we begin with Trainee Advising Sessions at 8:00 AM and 9:00 AM on the topics of “What’s up with an MD/PhD and am I competitive?” and “How to get the most from mentoring relationships.” These sessions will be followed at 10:00 AM with a special Panel Discussion – COVID-19 Updates from Frontline Experts, featuring six experts who are working in various areas of COVID-19 from molecular and serological testing to convalescent plasma therapy to autopsy findings in COVID-19 patients. There is no lunch session today, so plan to visit the ePosters. The afternoon scientific program begins at 1:00 PM with a Plenary Session on “Architectural models of disease: Rendering complexity on a small scale,” followed by concurrent symposia on “Host-microbial interactions at the mucosal surfaces” and “Lymphatic biology, obesity, and beyond.” The scientific program will end at 5:00 PM.

Additional on-demand content has now been posted on the Confex meeting website. If you missed a session, be sure to go back and watch.

The meeting will close out with a brief closing session at 5:00 PM.

We hope you have enjoyed the meeting and we look forward to getting your feedback after the meeting concludes. A meeting evaluation will be sent to all attendees within a few days.

Pathologists Fighting COVID-19 – Sally Davis

K-State Assistant Professor of Experimental Pathology, Dr. A. Sally Davis, an ASIP member and HCS Councilor, will lead USDA-National Institute of Food and Agriculture Rapid Response project “Translating SARS-CoV-2 Research Into Practical Solutions For The Meat And Poultry Processing Industry” to find scientific solutions to protect meat and poultry plant workers and their surrounding communities from the spread of COVID-19.

The research will focus on analysis of the presence and longevity of infectious SARS-CoV-2 on a variety of surfaces under industry realistic environmental conditions, analyze efficacy of current sanitation and disinfection approaches and where needed development of new strategies and guidelines. This transdisciplinary research project will merge virology, applied food science research and extension approaches, as well as applied mathematics risk assessment techniques in order to specifically address the needs of the meat and poultry industry while filling gaps in our broader knowledge about the virus. Read More below:

Kansas State University

Monday, Sept. 14, 2020 Kansas State University researchers involved in a U.S. Department of Agriculture-funded project to protect meat plant workers and their surrounding communities from the spread of COVID-19. From left: Randy Phebus, Sally Davis, Valentina Trinetta, Sara Gragg and Daniel Vega. Not pictured are Jeanette Thurston, Erin Schirtzinger and Yunjeong Kim.

USDA-NIFA Grants Nearly $14 Million for Rapid Response to Help U.S. Universities Find Scientific Solutions Amid Pandemic

KANSAS CITY, MO, September 9, 2020 – To keep science discovery, innovation, and education moving forward, USDA’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture (USDA-NIFA) developed a series of COVID-19 Rapid Response funding opportunities targeted to the most critical issues facing university researchers, small businesses and consumers across America during the pandemic.

Mouse Models Reveal Role of T-Cytotoxic and T-Reg Cells in Immune Response to Influenza: Implications for Vaccine Design

Article of Interest:

Stewart Sell

Abstract: Immunopathologic examination of the lungs of mouse models of experimental influenza virus infection provides new insights into the immune response in this disease. First, there is rapidly developing perivascular and peribronchial infiltration of the lung with T-cells. This is followed by invasion of T-cells into the bronchiolar epithelium, and separation of epithelial cells from each other and from the basement membrane leading to defoliation of the bronchial epithelium. The intraepithelial reaction may involve either CD8 or CD4 T-cytotoxic cells and is analogous to a viral exanthema of the skin, such as measles and smallpox, which occur when the immune response against these infections is activated and the infected cells are attacked by T-cytotoxic cells. Then there is formation of B-cell follicles adjacent to bronchi, i.e., induced bronchial associated lymphoid tissue (iBALT). iBALT reacts like the cortex of a lymph node and is a site for a local immune response not only to the original viral infection, but also related viral infections (heterologous immunity). Proliferation of Type II pneumocytes and/or terminal bronchial epithelial cells may extend into the adjacent lung leading to large zones filled with tumor-like epithelial cells. The effective killing of influenza virus infected epithelial cells by T-cytotoxic cells and induction of iBALT suggests that adding the induction of these components might greatly increase the efficacy of influenza vaccination.

Grab a shovel: How the over 65K published articles on COVID can teach us to be better scientists.

On July 23rd 2020 there were a reported total 66,883 peer reviewed open access articles on the novel coronavirus COVID-19. That does not include the 19,420 preprints that have also been reported. So let’s say we are at over 85K publications about COVID-19 in 2020. I don’t know about you, but that sounds out of control to me! Amongst all the wonderful data that I am sure is out there, we have to reconsider what is actually going on here.

An article published on the site retractionwatch.com has listed 25 retracted and 3 temporarily retracted articles on COVID-19.

I think this shines a light on a larger problem that is plaguing the scientific community, we are seeing the same thing in politics. It is not enough to be right, you just need to be first. If you read scientific literature you risk being misinformed, but if you don’t read and do your research then you are uninformed. So where do we find ourselves?

I was drawn to a particular article published in Nature Molecular and Cellular Immunology entitled SARS-CoV-2 infects T lymphocytes through its spike protein-mediated membrane fusion. This paper was accepted in 3 days! 3 days! It was retracted 3 months later because the investigators used a T-cell line instead of primary T-cells. What is worse is that this paper was accessed 225 thousand times and cited 38 times between its publication date on April 7, 2020 and its retraction date on July 10, 2020.

Now during a pandemic such as this we need to get information out as quickly as we get it but there has to be some kind of professional courtesy and accountability, especially at this level of publication. Haven’t we already learned our lesson about this with the twists and false reports about how vaccines cause autism? As for the paper mentioned above, it is entirely possible that the mechanism is conserved between the cell line and the primary cells, but we do not get to make that assumption, not now, not ever! As scientists we are responsible for creating the next generation of treatments, the health in the world is in our hands.

Let us learn one more lesson from COVID and remind ourselves that our work is not just about getting tenure or winning a grant, we are the experts in science and medicine and have a professional responsibility to the people. Our work can directly influence treatment plans and the healthcare of the people and we need to consider what we publish and how we publish it. Lets take that extra step and make sure we keep a high standard of scientific rigor and responsibility.

Interested in contributing original content to the ASIP blog? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu to get involved!

ASIP VIRTUAL HANGOUT FOR TRAINEE MEMBERS

The ASIP is hosting another free virtual hangout for trainee and junior members July 30th at 6P.M. EST. We will be discussing writing training grants during COVID and maximizing your ability to get funding. If you are interested please register by clicking the link below: https://zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0vf-upqzwoGNdqWQv7cEe4h8b7rYTn0Cgl

EDUCATION COMMITTEE ANNOUNCEMENTS

PISA 2020 is going virtual! Stay tuned for updates on PISA 2020 at https://pisa20.asip.org/

Interested in becoming a member of ASIP? Contact me at sougiann@musc.edu  www.linkedin.com/in/alexander-sougiannis