Covid-19 Story Tip: New Center Deeply Explores the Immunology of Covid-19


The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health have announced a new center for intensely studying the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — to improve serological tests for the pathogen. The goal is to provide a deeper understanding of the mechanisms by which the virus impacts the immune system in order to facilitate development of effective treatments and vaccines against it.

The joint research project, known as the Johns Hopkins Excellence in Pathogenesis and Immunity Center for SARS-CoV-2 (JH-EPICS), was established under a five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health. The funding of more than $2 million per year will support studies — commencing immediately — of the immune elements that determine whether people get mild or severe COVID-19 illness following exposure to the virus.

The center will be jointly led by Andrea Cox, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Sabra Klein, Ph.D., professor of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

“A lot of researchers have been studying COVID-19 on the side, but with a center grant like this, we can support a full-time focus on it by multiple investigators working as a team, and that gives us a good chance to solve some of the outstanding mysteries about this disease,” Cox says.

“Our new center’s goal is to combine Johns Hopkins’ world-class expertise in immunology, virology and biostatistics to map out the complexity of the immune response as it develops after infection — and to understand why that response can differ so greatly depending on age, gender, race, comorbidities such as obesity, and other factors,” Klein says.

Research at the center will focus on several immunological aspects of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19, including antibody- and cell-driven immunity, immune genetics, autoimmunity, molecular virology and other relevant fields.

The center’s researchers will be able to draw upon the clinical resources of Johns Hopkins Medicine, including thousands of blood samples taken from COVID-19 patients at all stages of infection. Additionally, the advanced quantitative techniques of computational biologists and biostatisticians at the Bloomberg School will help define meaningful patterns from enormous amounts of data.

The NCI funding for the project comes from an emergency $306 million appropriation by Congress earlier this year to create the Serological Sciences Network for COVID-19 (SeroNet). SeroNet is establishing eight Serological Sciences Centers of Excellence around the United States, of which JH-EPICS is one.