Weiss Receives ALA Grant to Study COVID-19 Lung Damage

November 13, 2020 by Jennifer Nachbur

University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., has been selected to receive one of the inaugural American Lung Association COVID-19 Action Initiative's COVID-19 and Respiratory Virus Research Award.

Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D. (Photo: UVM Medical Communications)

Research award supports exploration of solutions to reduce effects on lung 

While the world awaits a viable COVID-19 vaccine, the U.S. is seeing a significant increase in the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, which climbed up 40 percent in October. To accelerate the search for COVID-19 solutions, the American Lung Association recently announced a $25 million-dollar COVID-19 Action Initiative. As part of this effort, 12 researchers, including University of Vermont Professor of Medicine Daniel Weiss, M.D., Ph.D., have been selected as recipients of the inaugural COVID-19 and Respiratory Virus Research Award.

A pulmonary and critical care specialist, Weiss joins 11 other award recipients working to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory virus pandemics. Each awardee is receiving funding of $100,000 per year for two years to support the exploration of important avenues to reduce the burden of this virus.

Specifically, Weiss is examining how the virus damages the epithelial cells lining the lungs. This is a significant issue particularly for those patients who develop severe disease and require admission to intensive care units and need mechanical ventilation. Weiss’s collaborators on the study include Markus Thali, Ph.D., UVM professor of microbiology and molecular genetics, and colleagues at Boston University.

“The Vermont Lung Center’s investigators are grateful to the American Lung Association for supporting Dr. Weiss and this critical area of research, which will provide important new information to help us combat the devastating lung disease caused by COVID-19,” said Anne Dixon, M.A., B.M., B.Ch., director of the Vermont Lung Center and professor of medicine at UVM.

“Investing in research is critical to finding solutions and saving lives during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said American Lung Association Chief Medical Officer Albert Rizzo, M.D. “That is why we are thrilled to expand our research team. Through the COVID-19 Action Initiative, we will seek bold and innovative new approaches to treatment in our shared goal to end this epidemic and protect the health of Americans.”

The COVID-19 Action Initiative will allocate funds to research, education, advocacy, and coalition building over the next three years in order to end COVID-19 and defend against future respiratory viruses. The initiative will also be used to provide free lung health education to those in need, protect public health by advocating for COVID-19 and flu vaccines in underserved communities of color and prevent future outbreaks by investing in respiratory virus research. 

Since the launch of the COVID-19 Action Initiative, the organization announced a new research award and placed an urgent call for applications for the most promising research studies on COVID-19, and immediately expanded an existing research clinical trial to include COVID-19 research. The American Lung Association’s Airways Clinical Research Centers network (ACRC) is the nation’s largest network of nonprofit clinical trials focusing on asthma and COPD, and now – COVID-19.

“It is critical that we understand exactly how the virus damages the lung,” said Weiss. “We hope this work will open doors to new potential therapeutic approaches.”

Link to more information about the COVID-19 Action Initiative or the American Lung Association’s COVID-19 research award recipients and projects.

(This news release was adapted from an article produced by the American Lung Association.)