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UIC Joins the Fight Against the Coronavirus

The University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) is taking the lead on fighting the coronavirus: researchers are testing antiviral drugs for potential cures and engineers are building protective gear for health care workers.

A window with the UIC Engineering school logo painted on the pane in front of a leafy green tree

With the growing number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in the US, the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has become an innovator in the fight against the disease. As one of the nation’s top federally funded public research universities, UIC provides student and faculty investigators with access to advanced research facilities and resources to tackle obstacles related to the pandemic—including the lack of protective gear for health care workers and antiviral drugs to aid in recovery.

UIC tests antiviral medication for patients

The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health) began testing an antiviral drug last week that could potentially help patients who have contracted COVID-19 to combat the disease. The drug, remdesivir, which was originally tested against Ebola, will be administered to half of the patients who participate in a double-blind study at the UIC hospital, with the other half receiving a placebo. (Even doctors will not know which patients receive the drug.) All results will be sent directly to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the impact of the drug. 

Dr. Richard Novak, chief of infectious diseases at UIC, said the university is one of about seventy-five testing sites for the drug. Only patients who are admitted to UI Health and randomly selected will be enrolled in the study.

“We don’t know if it works,” Novak told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It could be a total failure, but if you don’t do this type of testing, you won’t know the answer… I think it will have some effect.”

UIC engineers protect health care workers

Engineers at UIC’s Makerspace, a facility equipped with 3D printers, scanners, a laser cutter, and other devices, have designed a face shield that can be distributed to UIC health care workers in desperate need of personal protective gear (PPE). The face shields, made completely from a sheet of thin plastic and a plastic band, have been tested by various departments in the hospital and updated to provide as much protection as possible.

“We’ve made about 500 so far and have material on hand to make about 1,000 more,” said Dylan Lynch, an assistant director of the Engineering Makerspace. “[We have] been working 24/7 to hunt this material down from all corners of the country.”

UIC’s designs are shared publicly online for other hospitals to use and distribute. The department is also looking for a facility to manufacture the shields at scale, so a larger number can be shared with health care workers.

The UIC community pitches in

UIC is committed to creating a healthy and supportive environment for all members of its community during COVID-19. While classes have been moved online this semester, UIC residence halls and dining services are still available to students who have remained on campus. 

The dining hall is practicing social distancing, but students can still retrieve boxed meals to go. The Campus Recreation facilities are closed, but in order to help students and faculty stay active during the pandemic, virtual group fitness classes are being offered, as well as intermural eSports Leagues, including FIFA, Madden NFL, and NBA2K. 

The UIC Student Leadership and Civic Engagement (SLCE) team has also shared ways for community members to make an impact through volunteering opportunities. If you would like to get involved, check out the UIC SLCE website.

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