COVID-19 Research

Many investigators at the Morgridge Institute are taking on new research challenges to help understand the COVID-19 novel coronavirus and defeat the viral outbreak. Research teams in virology, metabolism, regenerative biology and medical engineering have the expertise and technologies uniquely suited to address the pandemic.

COVID-19 Research at the Morgridge Institute

Areas of Expertise

  • Molecular mechanisms of viral replication
  • Virus-host interactions and oncogenesis
  • Mass spectrometry
  • Cryo-Electron Microscopy (Cryo-EM) analytics and technology development
  • High-throughput computing
  • Novel tools in machine learning and bioinformatics
  • Advanced fabrication facilities
  • Bioethics consultation

Even as the COVID-19 pandemic forced biomedical labs around the nation to scale down, many investigators at Morgridge are taking on new research challenges to help understand the novel coronavirus and defeat the viral outbreak.

The John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Center for Research in Virology has contributed to a fundamental understanding of how viruses work for decades, and its expertise and technologies are uniquely suited today to accelerate discovery related to coronaviruses.

Other Morgridge research teams in metabolism, regenerative biology and medical engineering are also making important contributions.

Help Scientists

Make your gift now to help Morgridge scientists working to stop deadly viruses, including coronaviruses. When you give, you’re supporting science that can quell the COVID-19 pandemic and stop future pandemics.

In the News

Morgridge scientists take on new research challenges

Resilience: How COVID-19 challenged the scientific world

Resilience: How COVID-19 challenged the scientific world

In late 2019, a novel coronavirus began spreading across the globe. The pandemic still isn’t over, but it hasn’t stopped scientific progress. We spoke with scientists at the Morgridge Institute for Research and the University of Wisconsin-Madison who shared stories of promise, resilience, and lessons learned to come together, overcome challenges and work for the public good.

Hunting viral variants across Wisconsin, powered by high-throughput computing

Hunting viral variants across Wisconsin, powered by high-throughput computing

When dangerous COVID viral variants were sweeping the globe, David O'Connor was busy tracking their spread in Wisconsin. His secret weapon? High-throughput computing.

COVID-19 Update:  Vaccines, viral variants and the path to successful re-opening

COVID-19 Update: Vaccines, viral variants and the path to successful re-opening

The impacts of COVID-19 are improving worldwide. But virology experts argue we must stay vigilant to protect public health for a safer, more productive future.

Stopping the next pandemic: We need a ‘space race’ against viruses

Stopping the next pandemic: We need a ‘space race’ against viruses

The COVID-19 pandemic is not an isolated event, but one step in an accelerating progression of viral threats. Preventing the next pandemic will take a massive scientific commitment.

COVID 19: How to talk about vaccines (and find common ground)

COVID 19: How to talk about vaccines (and find common ground)

Multiple COVID-19 vaccines are available, but some people are on the fence about getting their shot. Approaching a conversation with vaccine-hesitant friends and family may be challenging. Three scientists and public health experts spoke to more than 250 members during a Fearless Science Seminar Series.

COVID-19: The science of vaccines

COVID-19: The science of vaccines

Johan den Boon, anesthesiologist Dr. Bill Hartman, and pediatric infectious disease specialist Dr. James Conway presented for a webinar about the science of vaccines.

COVID-19 Resources

The global outbreak of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 and its associated disease COVID-19 is rapidly evolving and has been declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization. Since the situation is highly dynamic, frequent consultation of these sources is recommended.

Morgridge Experts

Paul Ahlquist

Director of the Morgridge Institute’s John W. and Jeanne M. Rowe Center for Research in Virology

Viruses not only block host defense genes, but actively exploit many other host gene functions to replicate. The Ahlquist Lab is defining virus-host interactions to shed light on infection and to develop broad-spectrum antivirals.

The lab also investigates the connections between viruses and cancer. Roughly 15 percent of human cancers are caused by specific tumor viruses. The team is deciphering how such tumor viruses infect and drive tumor development, and how to prevent or treat these cancers.

Biology can’t be understood by studying single genes any more than a novel could be understood by studying single words. The team uses systematic, genome-wide analyses to increase understanding of virus infection and control.

Josh Coon

Morgridge metabolism investigator and professor of biomolecular chemistry, UW-Madison

The Coon Lab develops and applies mass spectrometric technology to study human health. They use these tools to answer fundamental questions in cell biology and to study human diseases including Alzheimer’s, diabetes, heart failure, viral infection, cancer, obesity and asthma, among several others.

In April 2020, the Coon Lab launched a project with Dr. Ariel Jaitovich, physician at Albany Medical Center, to analyze plasma samples from approximately 150 COVID-19 patients and a control group. They are using mass spectrometry to find differences in the metabolic signatures of these cases between people who experienced a wide range of symptoms, from minimal to severe. It may provide promising targets for treatment and help predict severity.

Anthony Gitter

Morgridge investigator in virology and assistant professor of biostatistics and medical informatics, UW-Madison

Research in the Gitter Lab involves designing algorithms that leverage biological networks to connect different types of experimental data and detect surprising relationships among them. They use such techniques to study human disease, in particular cancer and viral infection.

The Gitter Lab co-developed a software tool called Manubot to orchestrate a rapid expert assessment of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics. The tool is contributing to an international collaborative effort to organize and consolidate the rapidly emerging scientific literature related to SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19.

Pilar Ossorio

Morgridge bioethicist in residence and professor of law and bioethics, UW-Madison

Ossorio’s research interests include governance of large-scale biosciences research, protections for people who participate in research, data sharing, ethics of “big data” science and uses of race in research and medicine.

She also serves as a consultant to major pharmaceutical companies and has helped provide direction on potential candidates for drugs that could be repurposed to help COVID-19 patients, while addressing some of the downstream ethical issues those decisions can cause. Additionally, she has been providing expertise on the ethical application of scarce medical resources during the pandemic, as well as the need for sound clinical trials that may help end the pandemic.

Ron Stewart

Morgridge associate director of bioinformatics

The Stewart Bioinformatics Group at Morgridge develops algorithms and performs analysis of several types of big biomedical data. This includes RNA sequencing data to evaluate the genes expressed in a cell or tissue, genome sequencing data, other forms of sequencing data, and text. We apply these questions primarily to address questions about regenerative biology and cancer, but they are applicable to a wide range of biomedical inquiries.

In April 2020, Stewart and bioinformatics colleague Scott Swanson joined the partnership with Albany Medical Center to provide RNA-seq analysis of more than 150 plasma samples from patients who are recovering from COVID-19 infection. The goal is to identify particular gene or protein signatures representing pathophysiological states such as coagulation, inflammation, and cell death that correlate with disease severity.

The Stewart group has developed algorithms for mining information from text. Stewart’s team is applying text mining algorithms and other methods to evaluate all 30 million papers in the PubMed biomedical database to find drugs that may be potentially repurposed for treating COVID-19 patients.

Miron Livny and Brian Bockelman

Morgridge investigators in core research computing

Livny and Bockelman lead the Center for High-Throughput Computing (CHTC), which brings together a unique ensemble of scientists whose goals are to stimulate new discoveries by providing scientists with effective and dependable access to a broad range of state-of-the-art computing capabilities. By dramatically increasing their computing throughput, scientists who use CHTC have greatly increased the size and complexity of the problems they study.

High-throughput computing may prove valuable to understanding the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The center has a project supported by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) for data mining and extraction from publication documents related to COVID-19. The team has currently accumulated 12 million documents in its data center relevant to coronaviruses.

Kevin Eliceiri and Brandon Walker

Morgridge Institute Fab Lab

The Morgridge Fab Lab collaborates with inventors on computer-aided design, prototyping, 3D printing, microfluidics and fabrication, from conception to completion. The campus-wide facility can assist with the more experimental phases of a research effort by generating early-stage prototypes and novel research tools.

One positive of COVID-19 relief work has been the overwhelming community effort to develop and source personal protective equipment (PPE) to area hospitals and medical workers. This effort was initiated and managed by the UW-Madison Makerspace, and includes staff and faculty from many UW-Madison departments, community makerspaces, and industrial partners, both small and large. Staff members of the Morgridge Fab Lab are proud to aid in this effort by sharing their expertise, helping build the community, and making industry connections. Additionally, the team has contributed during the design phase when possible for a variety of PPE projects. The team hopes the efforts of the Madison area maker community will help alleviate or even prevent PPE shortages being felt locally.