This fall, UNC Charlotte’s wastewater sampling and testing program captured the attention of the North Carolina General Assembly, prompting a $9 million legislative appropriation — the largest in University history — to our Bioinformatics Research Center. This funding is supporting the development of a novel COVID-19 monitoring program based on the presence of the virus in wastewater and public transportation systems, as well as the development and analysis of viral and epidemiological data to address viral spread, assess treatments and therapeutics, and combat COVID-19 and future viruses.
One example of work supported by this funding is that of bioinformatics and genomics professor Dan Janies, whose studies were among the first to trace SARS-CoV-1 virus back to its origins in bats. Through high-performance computing, he and his team have been able to compare all coronaviruses, assessing their potential for resisting drugs and for jumping from animals to humans. Since last winter, Dr. Janies has been featured in a number of media and webinar interviews, providing interpretation of this specialized science for the public.
Additional exciting COVID-related research is underway at UNC Charlotte, spanning public health, electrical and computer engineering, mathematics, bioinformatics, geography and earth sciences, computer science, among other disciplines. Here is just a snapshot:
- Researchers from The William States Lee College of Engineering and physicians from the Wake Forest School of Medicine are collaborating to determine the extent to which coronavirus is spread during certain surgical procedures.
- The Belk College of Business is measuring county-level economic impact, through the NC Policy Collaboratory, caused by mandatory stay-at-home orders enacted during the second quarter of 2020.
- Public Health Sciences has found the pandemic is associated with concerning mental health effects among vulnerable community members in Charlotte. The study assessed COVID-19-specific stress, rates of mental health symptoms, alcohol use, domestic violence, relationship quality and coping efforts, and interest in and barriers to low-cost mental health services.
- Research from Anthropology and Gerontology focuses on a case study related to providing care to older adults in long term care during COVID-19 in the Charlotte region, while also participating in a global comparative project in 20+ countries.
Silver linings are beginning to emerge at the close of the most challenging year in most of our memories. Stay safe.