Students join the COVID-19 frontline in research and clinical practice | University of Oxford
Photo by pressfoto
Photo by pressfoto

Students join the COVID-19 frontline in research and clinical practice

We’re immensely proud of the contributions made by our students to both COVID-19 research and clinical practice, and have highlighted just some areas in which they have played a role in the University’s efforts against the pandemic. Oxford’s response to the SARS-CoV2 pandemic has demonstrated the power of our research and discovery, with contributions to vaccine development and trials, structural biology, population health, data science, and more. Our researchers have also developed a vaccine in order to begin protecting people against the coronavirus, and clinical trials are now underway to establish whether the vaccine can provide human immunity.

Vaccine research – meet Daniel and Jyothi

Students working with Professor Sarah Gilbert and Professor Teresa Lambe in the Nuffield Department of Medicine's Jenner Institute have played a key role in generating the new vaccine candidate, which has been reported around the world. Daniel Wright is a DPhil student at the Jenner Institute, and is working in the lab team which has been running the Oxford Vaccine Centre’s COVID-19 vaccine trial. Their work has involved measuring the immune response of blood samples taken from volunteers, who are tested to see whether they have already been naturally exposed to the virus. Following their recruitment, volunteers are vaccinated and their blood is tested for levels of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies. The process allows the researchers to measure the response elicited by the virus. Daniel said: “the data we are generating in the lab will provide important context with regards to the vaccine’s eventual efficacy and will further our understanding of the type of immune response required for protection against COVID-19.” You can find out more about the ongoing COVID-19 trials at https://covid19vaccinetrial.co.uk/.

The University’s work in vaccine development has taken it beyond the city of Oxford, testifying to the truly global reach of our research community. Jyothi Purushotham is an NIH-Oxford Scholar based at the NIH Rocky Mountain Laboratories in Maryland, USA, and is mentored by Professors Sarah Gilbert and Teresa Lambe at The Jenner Institute, and Dr Vincent Munster of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. Jyothi’s research has contributed to understanding the efficacy of ChAdOx1 nCoV-19, a potential vaccine for the virus, at preclinical levels. She is also carrying out further immune profiling of the vaccine response. You can read Jyothi’s recent paper on her research.

Immunity and structure research – meet Andrew Kwok

Andrew Kwok, a DPhil student in Clinical Medicine, has researched into immunity to the virus. The Sepsis Immunomics study he has set up, which recruits severely ill COVID-19 patients, plans to compare the immune response to COVID-19 to those across a number of different conditions, including in patients who have suffered from severe influenza infection or bacterial sepsis. His focus so far has been on simultaneous RNA-sequencing and cell surface protein profiling on the same cells, which will enable him to understand why some patients experience much more severe illness, identify biomarkers early on in the course of the disease, and ultimately, work towards distributing patients into different groups for the right drug treatment and clinical management.

At the Dunn School of Pathology, students have been analysing the neutralisation potency of antibodies to the virus, which will provide insight into how the human immune system responds to and combats the infection. This has also been the focus in the Weatherall Institute of Molecular Medicine, where the Townsend lab has been working on identifying and characterising different neutralising antibodies isolated from COVID-19, in the search for a potentially therapeutic antibody. In the Physics Department, DPhil students have been formulating a rapid diagnosis of the virus using machine learning, as well as using mathematical modelling to chart the dynamics of infection and transmission.

Global and international health studies

The involvement of our students extends to projects which have been researching the global implications of the virus. Many students and alumni from the Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health have shifted their third term projects to contribute to COVID-19 research efforts: of a cohort of 23 students, 13 are undertaking COVID-19 related research. Some of the projects include mapping research activity to WHO research priorities and managing the outbreak among migrant workers and refugee populations. Students researching population health have been studying the pandemic’s impact on women with chronic illnesses and engaging with philanthropic organisations in support of various African countries. A student at the Nuffield Department has also set up a website tracking the SARS CoV-2 research landscape.

Oxford has pioneered the global response to the pandemic, both preparing a vaccine and in researching virus activity and impact. We continue to be especially proud of the dynamic and crucial work of our research community, particularly that of our students, that has taken place in an extraordinary time.

Read more about the ongoing COVID-19 trials.
Read Jyothi’s paper on the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19.
Find out more about the SARS CoV-2 research landscape at http://covid19.trialstracker.net/.