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Cedars-Sinai to Study Unequal Impact of COVID-19 on Minorities

Funded by the National Cancer Institute, Cedars-Sinai Will Join One of the Largest Coordinated Efforts to Advance Knowledge of Immunology and Coronavirus in the U.S.

Cedars-Sinai has been awarded a five-year, $8.3 million grant by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to study the diversity and determinants of the immune-inflammatory response to SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19 (coronavirus). Using comprehensive longitudinal data collection and analyses, the research will focus on the ethnically and racially diverse population served by the Cedars-Sinai Health System in Los Angeles.

"There is a critical need for more knowledge regarding the determinants of COVID-19- related risks in minority subgroups," said Susan Cheng, MD, MPH, MMSc, director of Public Health Research at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai. "We are finding widening ethnic and racial disparities in both the risk of infection and the severity of this disease." Cheng, associate professor of Cardiology, is one of three co-principal investigators for the grant.

As part of the grant award, Cedars-Sinai has been designated as one of just eight Centers of Excellence for a collaborative involving more than 25 universities, cancer centers and laboratories in one of  the largest coordinated efforts to advance knowledge of immunology and COVID-19 in the U.S. The new national Serological Sciences Network, or SeroNet, is a major component of the NCI's response to the pandemic.

The network's goal is to rapidly deploy serological testing to the American public, improve understanding of the immune response to SARS-CoV-2 and help control the spread of the virus. The institutions are working in partnership with the NCI and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), both part of the National Institutes of Health.

To accelerate the research, Cedars-Sinai has taken the lead in forming a network of clinicians and scientists from multiple institutions, primarily in Southern California, to conduct the Coronavirus Risk Associations and Longitudinal Evaluation (CORALE) study. The collaborators include clinician-scientists, epidemiologists, immunologists, basic and translational scientists, analytical chemists, biostatisticians and bioinformaticians.

As part of the SeroNet initiative, CORALE is conducting two projects:

  • Project 1 will examine the natural history and longitudinal trajectories that represent the diversity of SARS-CoV-2 exposure, infection, recovery and clinical immunity patterns across populations at risk.
  • Project 2 will investigate the determinants of SARS-CoV-2 response among individuals who have altered immune function related to either chronic disease or their therapies.

"This prestigious new grant from the NCI represents a major federal commitment to Cedars-Sinai's COVID-19 research, which currently comprises more than 80 studies and clinical trials, and highlights our pioneering CORALE collaborative network," said Shlomo Melmed, MB, ChB, executive vice president of Academic Affairs and dean of the medical faculty at Cedars-Sinai.

The other co-principal investigators for the grant are Jane Figueiredo, PhD, associate professor of Medicine and director of Community and Population Health Research at Cedars-Sinai Cancer, and Michael Karin, PhD, Distinguished Professor of Pharmacology and Pathology at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine.

SeroNet is funded by an emergency congressional appropriation of $306 million to the NCI “to develop, validate, improve and implement serological testing and associated technologies.” 

“The nation’s top researchers in academia, government and private industry have come together in an unprecedented effort to fight the pandemic,” said Dinah Singer, PhD, deputy director of the NCI. “Through SeroNet, we are examining the immune response to the coronavirus to speed delivery of testing, treatments and vaccine development for COVID-19. What we learn could be applied immediately and will prove invaluable to public health beyond the current pandemic.”

Funding: Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1U54CA260591-01.

Read more from Embracing Our Community magazine: Cedars-Sinai Partners Provide COVID-19 Relief for Vulnerable Angelenos