The Laboratory for Infectious Disease Research (LIDR) at the University of Missouri is a regional biocontainment laboratory located on the Columbia campus. The LIDR is critical for collaborating scientists who perform research on infectious diseases and is part of our nation’s effort to protect public health. In recent months, COVID-19 has become an important topic of research for the scientists who work in the LIDR.
Jeffrey Adamovicz, PhD, is the LIDR’s director. He is responsible for the safe operation of the facility and providing support for users, ensuring they can complete their intended research.
“The LIDR facilitates regional research on what we call ‘high-consequence pathogens’,” says Adamovicz. “These high-consequence pathogens can be toxins, viruses, bacteria or fungi.”
As part of that effort, LIDR researchers procured a sample of the virus that causes COVID-19.
“We foresaw the need to conduct research on campus to help understand the basic virus biology and help work toward the creation of therapeutic treatments, diagnostics, medical devices and vaccines,” Adamovicz says.
Guidelines for the safe handling and research of SARS-CoV-2 were published by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. They state that work beyond routine specimen testing should be conducted only under biosafety level 3 (BSL3) conditions and practices. The LIDR is the only facility on the MU campus that operates under BSL3. Researchers conduct studies for model development, vaccine creation and analysis, therapeutics testing, vector-borne disease prevention, host-pathogen interaction and host immune response. The LIDR also houses specialists in aerobiology and immunology who facilitate and support research, which furthers the capacity for research on COVID-19.
Professor of Veterinary Pathobiology and Associate Dean for Research Christian Lorson, PhD, detailed the importance of this kind of facility. “This is very important work that can really only be accomplished in a handful of locations across the country and to have this facility within the CVM presents an outstanding opportunity to help animals and humans,” said Lorson. “Perhaps now more than ever it has become increasingly clear that having a strong infectious disease program is critical for a research institution like MU, as the LIDR was able to quickly pivot and is now able to assist in the multi-pronged research effort to understand and stop the COVID-19 pandemic.”
The LIDR currently has a multitude of collaborations in discussion for product efficacy testing, model development, and vaccine and therapeutics research. Associate Director for the LIDR and Assistant Research Professor in Veterinary Pathobiology Paul Anderson, PhD, explained this process. “We have been contacted by dozens of investigators who want to collaborate with us to test everything from antiviral therapeutics, vaccinations, host-immunomodulating compounds and different products that claim to have antiviral properties,” said Anderson. “All these things need to be verified so we’ve been spending a lot of time over the last couple of months working with people to submit grant applications and other nondisclosure agreements to try to get all this moving.”
According to Adamovicz, the overarching goal of the LIDR’s COVID-19 research and testing is to generate knowledge that will help alleviate the current pandemic, as well as provide a better foundation of knowledge for future coronavirus outbreaks. While knowledge is the main goal, Adamovicz says the LIDR’s research may be able to provide a solution. “It is likely that we may deliver new drugs or a novel vaccine candidate for the disease,” says Adamovicz. “The University of Missouri has talented faculty that are up to the challenge and can work alongside the best researchers in the country. When Mizzou agreed with the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Disease to host the LIDR over 10 years ago, it was with the possibility of a pandemic disease in mind. So, hats off to that foresight and kudos to MU to have a facility of this type to help serve the citizens of Missouri.”
By Nick Childress