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.

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, Ben Cox 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.

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.

In the News

Morgridge scientists take on new research challenges

Unraveling the network of molecules that influence COVID-19 severity

Unraveling the network of molecules that influence COVID-19 severity

Researchers from the Morgridge Institute for Research, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and Albany Medical College have identified more than 200 molecular features that strongly correlate with COVID-19 severity, offering insight into potential treatment options for those with advanced disease.

Keys to a successful COVID-19 vaccine

Keys to a successful COVID-19 vaccine

As health officials move closer to developing safe vaccines against COVID-19, Morgridge virology expert Paul Ahlquist argues for the need for patience and trust during what will be the largest vaccination effort in more than 70 years.

Summer Science Workshop helps students form their science identity

Summer Science Workshop helps students form their science identity

The workshop series, which wrapped up in late July, brought more than 100 students and 15 teachers “face-to-face” to learn online from scientists at the Morgridge Institute for Research.

Multi-omic data and interactive web tool made publicly available to aid COVID-19 research

Multi-omic data and interactive web tool made publicly available to aid COVID-19 research

Why is it that some COVID-19 patients become extremely ill and die, while others experience only mild symptoms? A new study uses mass spectrometry, RNA sequencing, and machine learning to explore the molecular traits that might influence the severity of the disease.

Seize the Moment: Adapting old tools for a novel coronavirus

Seize the Moment: Adapting old tools for a novel coronavirus

Morgridge scientists John Brubacher, Anthony Gitter, Brian Bockelman, Ben Cox and Katie Overmyer, joined Gabriella Gerhardt on July 22 for a Fearless Science webinar about rapidly applying technology and methods to answer COVID-19 questions.

From the CEO: Trial, error and pandemics

From the CEO: Trial, error and pandemics

The scientific community's shift on wearing masks to fight the pandemic tells us something important about the scientific process. Science can get things wrong, but the constant push for new knowledge — combined with an ability to admit and correct mistakes — should always prevail.

Could pre-existing conditions hold the clue to new COVID-19 drugs?

Could pre-existing conditions hold the clue to new COVID-19 drugs?

The deadliest cases of COVID-19 often arise in patients with a variety of pre-existing conditions, known to medicine as “comorbidity.” A Morgridge Institute for Research project will investigate those disease relationships in the search for new drug treatments.

Overcoming COVID-19 and future pandemics: new tools to control viral threats

Overcoming COVID-19 and future pandemics: new tools to control viral threats

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, Morgridge Investigators Paul Ahlquist and Tony Gitter joined CEO Brad Schwartz in a webinar on June 2nd where they discussed COVID-19 and the broader context of viral pandemics and how we respond to them.

Using nanobodies to fish for coronavirus clues

Using nanobodies to fish for coronavirus clues

A Morgridge Institute for Research project intended to shed light on planarians — remarkable flatworms capable of almost limitless regeneration — is being repurposed to focus on the novel coronavirus causing COVID-19.

Chronicling pandemic science in real time

Chronicling pandemic science in real time

Morgridge virology investigator Anthony Gitter, an assistant professor of biostatistics and medical informatics at UW-Madison, has co-developed a software tool called Manubot to help orchestrate a rapid expert assessment of COVID-19 diagnostics and therapeutics.

Albany, Wisconsin teams search for molecular clues to defeat COVID-19

Albany, Wisconsin teams search for molecular clues to defeat COVID-19

In the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, many hospitals are racing to maintain quality care for patients with severe disease while facing a shortage of resources and limited understanding of the novel coronavirus.

COVID-19: A wake-up call for the need for new antiviral weapons

COVID-19: A wake-up call for the need for new antiviral weapons

Given the death toll and multi-trillion dollar costs of COVID-19, it’s not hyperbole to suggest that an effort on the scale of the Space Race is needed to break the cycle of viral pandemics.

In COVID-19 response, don’t let urgency trump sound science

In COVID-19 response, don’t let urgency trump sound science

Bioethicist Pilar Ossorio says the world could be at risk of sacrificing essential knowledge for fighting COVID-19 and future deadly viruses if the COVID-19 response is not accompanied by sound research.

We’re in this together

We’re in this together

Morgridge CEO Brad Schwartz provides an update on how we’re keeping scientists and teams safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Discovery Building closes to public;  stay informed on COVID-19 pandemic

Discovery Building closes to public; stay informed on COVID-19 pandemic

As of March 18, the Discovery Building, home of the Morgridge Institute for Research, will be closed to the public. All public events in the building are canceled. Visit here for important COVID-19 updates.