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Researchers create rapid tests, analytics for COVID-19

Two distinct diagnostic tests, a host/pathogen RNA sequencing platform, and spatially resolved tissue mapping tools, were created by a multidisciplinary team of Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital-led researchers and used to map SARS-CoV-2 infections at the height of the initial COVID-19 outbreak in New York City.

These alternatives to the gold standard RT-PCR test expand the repertoire of tools available to the public health community and together offer the benefits of speed, simplicity and in-depth knowledge about the virus.

The multidisciplinary study, published March 12 in Nature Communications, demonstrates that a test called reverse transcription loop-mediated isothermal amplification (RT-LAMP) can quickly and accurately detect the presence of SARS-CoV-2 in patient samples using simple equipment, while a second approach that captures and sequences the viral RNA allows investigators to identify and track the evolution of variants. The investigators further demonstrated that total RNA sequencing yields insights into both viral sequence evolution as well as human responses to the viral infection.

“We are entering a new era of fast and accurate tools that can tell us when and how viral variants arise and move in specific populations,” said senior author Dr. Christopher Mason, co-director of the WorldQuant Initiative for Quantitative Prediction and a professor of physiology and biophysics at Weill Cornell Medicine. “We hope our innovations will be used like a weather report to identify viral outbreaks, improve tracking and tracing efforts to protect people from infection, and improve treatment interventions for patients.”

Dr. Luigi Marchionni Promoted to Vice Chair, Computational and Systems Pathology

We are delighted to announce the promotion of Luigi Marchionni, MD, PhD, to Vice Chair, Computational and Systems Pathology effective March 1, 2021.

Luigi Marchionni, MD, PhD
Vice Chair, Computational and Systems Pathology

Dr. Marchionni is truly an outstanding computational biologist. He works to develop novel tools for integration and analysis of “omics” data from distinct patients, model organisms, and technological platforms. Dr. Marchionni’s research, through the integration of multi-modal data, aims at the development of novel prediction algorithms for disease prognostication and therapy selection, and the integration of such multimodal predictors into current patients clinical management.

Dr. Marchionni has authored over 100 peer-reviewed publications, with many as primary or senior author, in journals that include Genome Research, PNAS, Cancer Research, Modern Pathology, Bioinformatics, Molecular Cancer Research, Nature Communications, and Science Translational Medicine. A subset of his work embodies multidisciplinary research publications in which Dr. Marchionni has served as the biocomputational expert that designed the analysis and key analytics data assessments for many collaborative studies. 

Dr. Marchionni is currently leading the Department initiative to establish the Pathology Cloud Research Data Warehouse (CRDP), a powerful, HIPAA-compliant, CPU/GPU-scalable, cloud computing infrastructure, fitted with state-of-the analytical pipelines, that aims at streamlining clinical research and innovation on integrated imaging, molecular, and health care data, by leveraging secure and scalable data analysis pipelines.

Please join us in congratulating Luigi!

Researchers Learn that Pregnant Women Pass Along Protective COVID Antibodies to their Babies

Antibodies that guard against COVID-19 can transfer from mothers to babies while in the womb, according to a new study from Weill Cornell Medicine and NewYork-Presbyterian researchers published in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

This discovery, published Jan. 22, adds to growing evidence that suggests that pregnant women who generate protective antibodies after contracting the coronavirus often convey some of that natural immunity to their fetuses. The findings also lend support to the idea that vaccinating mothers-to-be may also have benefits for their newborns.  

Yawei (Jenny) Yang, MD, PhD
Assistant Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine

“Since we can now say that the antibodies pregnant women make against COVID-19 have been shown to be passed down to their babies, we suspect that there’s a good chance they could pass down the antibodies the body makes after being vaccinated as well,” said Dr. Yawei Jenny Yang, an assistant professor of pathology and laboratory medicine at Weill Cornell Medicine and the study’s senior author.

Dr. Yang and her team analyzed blood samples from 88 women who gave birth at NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Center between March and May 2020, a time when New York City was the global epicenter of the pandemic. All of the women had COVID-19 antibodies in their blood, indicating that they had contracted the virus at some point even though 58 percent of those women had no symptoms. Furthermore, while antibodies were detected in both symptomatic and asymptomatic women, the researchers observed that the concentration of antibodies was significantly higher in symptomatic women. They also found that the general pattern of antibody response was similar to the response seen in other patients, confirming that pregnant women have the same kind of immune response to the virus as the larger patient population—something that hadn’t previously been known for sure, since a woman’s immune system changes throughout pregnancy.

In addition, the vast majority of the babies born to these women—78 percent—had detectable antibodies in their umbilical cord blood. There was no evidence that any of the infants had been directly infected with the virus and all were COVID negative at the time of birth, further indicating that the antibodies had crossed the placenta—the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to a growing baby during pregnancy—into the fetal bloodstream. Newborns with symptomatic mothers also had higher antibody levels than those whose mothers had no COVID symptoms.

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