UIC Joins the Fight Against the Coronavirus

University of Illinois at Chicago
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By Shorelight Team
Last updated on June 21, 2022

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.

University of Illinois at Chicago

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 Launches Enhanced UIC Healthcheck Daily Pass To Track COVID

In early February 2021, UIC launched on-campus saliva testing to efficiently track COVID among students and employees who are studying and working on the Chicago campus, as well as at the Colleges of Medicine at Rockford and Peoria.

All students, faculty, and staff attending on-campus activities are required to use UIC’s enhanced Healthcheck app to record their current saliva testing status (indicated as a separate color-coded badge) in addition to daily self-reported status before arriving on campus each day.

UIC Researchers Develop a Strategy to Fight COVID Using Antibodies 

Funded by the UIC Center for Clinical and Translational Science, researchers at the UIC and California State University at Sacramento have developed a strategy to train the immune system to combat SARS-CoV-2, the new coronavirus. Published by the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters in February 2021, the team proposed a strategy of redirecting antibodies for other diseases that already exist in humans to the spike proteins of SARS-CoV-2.

“Once the SARS-CoV-2 viruses become labeled by the hepatitis B antibodies via intermediate boosters, the viruses will be neutralized. This universal approach allows a dramatic shortening of the response time upon real infections, which can be critical in certain patients or conditions,” says Petr Král, UIC professor of chemistry, physics, pharmaceutical sciences and chemical engineering, and senior author on the paper.

UIC Tests Antiviral Medication for Patients

The University of Illinois Hospital & Health Sciences System (UI Health) began testing an antiviral drug in 2020 that could potentially help patients who have contracted COVID-19 to combat the disease. The drug, remdesivir, which was originally tested against Ebola, was administered to half of the patients who participated in a double-blind study at the UIC hospital, and the other half received a placebo. (Even doctors did not know which patients received the drug.) All results were sent directly to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to determine the impact of the drug. 

In early 2020, UIC was one of about 75 testing sites for the drug. Only patients who were admitted to UI Health and randomly selected were enrolled in the study. Later, the UIC also enrolled patients in a second clinical trial to study the effects of the drug remdesivir in combination with baricitnib, an anti-inflammatory drug.

UIC Engineers Protect Health Care Workers

In 2020, engineers at UIC’s Makerspace, a facility equipped with 3D printers, scanners, a laser cutter, and other devices, designed a face shield that can be distributed to UIC health care workers in need of personal protective gear (PPE). The face shields, made completely from a sheet of thin plastic and a plastic band, were tested by various departments in the hospital and updated to provide as much protection as possible.

UIC’s face shield designs have been shared publicly online for other hospitals to use and distribute.

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 many classes have been moved online, UIC residence halls and dining services are still available to students who remain on campus. 

The dining hall is open with safe social distancing protocols in effect. The Campus Recreation facilities are operating at 50 percent capacity, and 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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