CWRU researchers receive $2.6 million to study immune system and COVID-19 – Crain's Cleveland Business

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Researchers at Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Clinic have received $2.6 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support work they are leading to better understand how the immune system responds to COVID-19, according to a news release[1].

The research will look at COVID-19 and the immune system from the start of infection to the recovery.

The $2.6 million is the total of two separate grants out of just 13 awarded nationally by the NCI’s Serological Sciences Network (SeroNet), which aims to combat the pandemic by improving the ability to test for infection — especially among diverse populations — and speed the development of treatments and vaccines, according to the release.

Beginning at exposure to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, the immune system is hard at work, and doctors and researchers haven’t been able to fully understand the immune response and why some people experience symptoms while others remain asymptomatic.

Researchers say a major gap exists in understanding antibody CoV2 resistance and the immunological events that take place after exposure, according to the release.

“Case Western Reserve is a leader in emerging infections, immune response and clinical cancer investigation,” said Stan Gerson, interim dean of the School of Medicine, in a provided statement. “This funding from the National Cancer Institute allows us to pivot existing knowledge and resources to accelerate our understanding of COVID-19 infections to optimize our protections and response to this clinically devastating infection.”

Gerson also is director of the Case Comprehensive Cancer Center and director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine.

A team of investigators (including Adam Burgener, Mark Cameron, David Canaday, Jeff Jacobson, Jon Karn, Christopher L. King and Curtis Tatsuoka at CWRU School of Medicine) is focused on discerning how the earliest innate immune responses to CoV2 affect development of humoral immunity either positively or negatively, according to the release. This research follows household contacts of clinical cases of CoV2 to determine innate and adaptive immune events associated with early viral exposure over a 28-day period. The researchers will also track how this impacts the durability of immunity to CoV2 over several years, according to the release.

“By characterizing the early immune response prior to onset of symptoms we hope to identify features that will predict symptomatic versus asymptomatic cases, disease severity and long-term immunity,” said King, who is helping to coordinate the team’s effort, in a provided statement.

Recovery from COVID-19 can put extreme pressure on the immune system, especially for patients with pre-existing complications, according to the release, which notes that certain individuals, such as those with impaired immune function or heart disease, appear to be at a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

Two other researchers are investigating how differences in immunologic function and risk factors for heart disease relate to COVID-19. David Zidar (an associate professor at the School of Medicine and an interventional cardiologist at Louis Stokes Cleveland VA Medical Center) and Timothy A. Chan (director of the Center for Immunotherapy and Precision Immuno-Oncology at Cleveland Clinic and co-director of the National Center for Regenerative Medicine at CWRU) will compare which patients develop heart involvement in response to COVID-19 versus those who do not in an effort to identify ways the virus may directly or indirectly attack distant organs like the heart. This research could have an impact for all COVID-19 patients with pre-existing conditions, not just those with heart disease, according to the release.

“We are trying to understand the intrinsic mechanisms that explain why some develop life-threatening disease whereas others are minimally affected,” Zidar said in a provided statement. “We hope to develop strategies to identify and prevent severe illness from developing in those with COVID.”


  1. ^ a news release (

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