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HSS Funds Innovative Research on COVID-19

Thanks to the generous support of donors, Hospital for Special Surgery (HSS) has announced the funding of nine grants for projects related to the study of COVID-19. These projects reflect the institution’s expertise in basic, translational and clinical research, and clinical care. Over $500,000 has been awarded so far.

HSS is the world’s largest academic medical center specialized in musculoskeletal health, spanning orthopedics, rheumatology and related disciplines. The HSS Research Institute maintains 20 laboratories dedicated to solving debilitating orthopedic and rheumatic conditions such as arthritis, bone and soft tissue injuries, autoimmune diseases, and musculoskeletal pain and deformities. There, more than 300 dedicated personnel focus on tissue repair, improving surgical outcomes, autoimmunity and inflammation, genomics, new treatments, and precision medicine.

“HSS has a long history of contributing to the collective base of clinical and basic science knowledge and finding healthcare solutions for complex conditions,” said Louis A. Shapiro, President and CEO, HSS. “We’re proud that through the joint efforts of our institution and philanthropic support, we will have the ability to make a strong impact on this growing and vital area of research.”

“As experts in inflammatory disorders and in the development of interventions for overactive immune responses, the clinicians and researchers at HSS are well-positioned to investigate many of the adverse effects of COVID-19,” says Lionel B. Ivashkiv, MD, Chief Scientific Officer at the HSS Research Institute. “This includes studying the causes of these adverse effects as well as how to prevent and treat them.”What follows are descriptions of the first group of funded projects in basic/translational research:

Activation of pDCs by SARS-CoV-2 and Its Impact on Macrophage Response

Principal Investigator: Franck Barrat, PhD

Co-Investigator: Marie-Dominique Ah Kioon, PhD

This project will study cell types that are responsible for cytokine storm syndrome — the hyperactive immune response seen in people with COVID-19 — by looking at how certain immune cells are activated by SARS-CoV-2. Research in mice infected with SARS-CoV, a coronavirus similar to the one that causes COVID-19, has suggested that plasmacytoid dendritic cell precursors (pDCs) are key to the immune response to infection. These pDCs activate macrophages, which in turn secrete cytokines. In the SARS-CoV research, depletion of pDCs appeared to protect the mice from lethal lung injury. Using blood samples from donors, the investigators will study the pathway by which pDCs activate macrophages and look at ways to therapeutically block that process.

Inhibiting RNA Polymerase II Transcription Complexes in Macrophages to Target COVID-19–Associated Cytokine Storm

Principal Investigator: Inez Rogatsky, PhD

Co-Investigators: Steven Josefowicz, PhD, and Robert P. Fisher, MD, PhD

This pilot project will dissect the role of macrophages in SARS-CoV-2-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), the main driver of COVID-19-associated mortality. We will test small-molecule inhibitors of RNA Polymerase II (Pol II) transcription complexes for their ability to modulate type I interferon and inflammatory pathways in monocytes/macrophages. This research will be done using cultured macrophages as well as donor blood and blood from COVID-19 patients.

Mechanisms of Cytokine Storm in Patients with COVID-19

Principal Investigator: Mary K. Crow, MD

Co-Investigators: Mikhail Olferiev, MD, and Lionel B. Ivashkiv, MD

The objectives of this study are to describe the process of the cytokine storm in people with COVID-19 and to identify biologic predictors of a favorable outcome in patients with severe cases of the disease. The project aims to characterize immune cell populations seen in COVID-19 patients who experience cytokine storm and compare them to those patients who do not, to compare the immune response before and after patients are given the anti-inflammatory drug anakinra, and to identify measures that suggest patients are more likely to decline and eventually require mechanical ventilation. The research will employ blood samples from HSS patients who are being treated for COVID-19 at New York–Presbyterian Hospital and who meet certain other qualifications.

What follows are descriptions of the first group of funded projects in the areas of clinical and health outcomes research:

Response to and Recovery from TKA in Patients with Antibodies to SARS-CoV-2

Principal Investigator: Miguel Otero, PhD

Co-Investigators: Meghan Kirksey, MD, PhD, and Peter K. Sculco, MD

It is unknown if people who have been exposed to COVID-19 may be at higher risk of experiencing an abnormal immune response following surgery, resulting in poor outcomes. This study will evaluate the response to and recovery from total knee arthroplasty (TKA) in people who have antibodies to COVID-19 — a marker of exposure. This study will include both patients who have COVID-19 antibodies and those who don’t, to act as controls. Patients will be followed for six weeks after surgery and evaluated for the presence of certain immune markers in the blood, as well as symptoms of inflammation including pain and stiffness in the joint.

SARS-CoV-2 Exposure and the Role of Vitamin D Among Hospital Employees

Principal Investigator: Emily M. Stein, MD, MS

Co-Investigators: Theresa T. Lu, MD, PhD; Andy O. Miller, MD; Jeri Nieves, PhD; and Alana Serota, MD

It is unknown if people with vitamin D deficiency may be more likely to become infected with COVID-19. This study will investigate vitamin D status and associated immune markers as risk factors for COVID-19 infection in a cohort of healthcare workers. Healthcare workers are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19 than the general population, making them a good group to study. Vitamin D is critical for immune function and is known to be protective against respiratory-tract infection and tuberculosis. This prospective, observational study will follow healthcare workers at HSS and at other healthcare facilities for one year, to determine whether levels of vitamin D and certain immune cells in the blood make someone more susceptible to COVID-19 infection.

Association of Immunomodulatory Medication Use and Social Determinants of Health with COVID-19 Infection in Systemic Rheumatic Disease Patients in New York City

Principal Investigator: Medha Barbhaiya, MD, MPH

Co-Investigators from HSS: Lisa Mandl, MD, MPH; Catherine MacLean, MD, PhD; Vinicius Antao, MD, PhD; Jane Salmon, MD; and Mayu Sasaki, MPH

Other Co-Investigators: Candace Feldman, MD, MPH (of Brigham and Women’s Hospital); Debra D’Angelo, MS (of Weill Cornell Medicine)

Using data from the INSIGHT Clinical Research Network, a central repository containing longitudinal electronic health data for residents of New York City, investigators will assemble a cohort of patients being treated with immunomodulatory medications for rheumatic disease. This patient population will then be used to study the effect of these medications on COVID-19 incidence and outcomes. Retrospective data will be used to evaluate the incidence and severity of COVID-19 in these patients. Patients will also be studied prospectively to determine whether there’s a relationship between COVID-19 infection and future rheumatic disease as well as to study connections between infection and future psycho-social issues.

Assessment of Surgical Outcomes in the COVID-19 Pandemic Era

Principal Investigator: Andy O. Miller, MD

Co-Investigators: Scott A. Rodeo, MD, and Mark Fontana, PhD

Investigators will implement a patient registry to evaluate how COVID-19 affects outcomes and complication rates after orthopedic surgery. This registry, along with COVID-19 screening procedures, will provide the tools to address specific research questions. Among these questions are determining the incidence of current and prior infection among the HSS surgical population, the clinical features associated with current and prior infections in this patient population, and whether COVID-19 status affects short-term complication rates.

What follows is a description of an integrated multidisciplinary study being undertaken jointly by the Adult Reconstruction and Joint Replacement (ARJR) Perioperative Research Group, Anesthesiology and Rheumatology:

Prediction and Prevention of Postoperative Blood Clots in COVID-19 Patients

Principal Investigators: Friedrich Boettner, MD; Kethy M. Jules-Elysee, MD; Lisa A. Mandl, MD, MPH

Co-Investigators: ARJR surgeons: Alejandro Gonzalez Della Valle, MD; Jason Blevins, MD; David J. Mayman, MD; Peter K. Sculco, MD; Geoffrey H. Westrich, MD and Thomas P. Sculco, MD

Medicine/Rheumatology: Medha Barbhaiya, MD, MPH; Doruk Erkan, MD, MPH; Deanna Jannat-Khah, DrPH

Pathology: Thomas W. Bauer, MD, PhD

Anesthesiology: Stavros G. Memtsoudis, MD, PhD, MBA; Alexandra Sideris, PhD

ARJR: Amethia Joseph, MHA; Ethan Krell, MS

Weill Cornell Medicine: Raymond David Pastore, MD

Recent literature suggests that one of the major complications seen in people with COVID-19 is thrombosis (the formation of blood clots) due to endothelial dysfunction, persistent inflammation and potentially antiphospholipid antibodies. As elective surgeries resume, those with prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2 will inevitably present for treatment, and some may have perioperative management considerations related to their risk of deep-vein thrombosis. This project will use, a noninvasive device that can determine clotting risks, to investigate whether people who have had COVID-19 have a more dysfunctional endothelium preoperatively and at 24 hours after surgery. The investigators will measure antiphospholipid antibodies and inflammatory markers, and evaluate the prevalence of asymptomatic post-operative deep-vein thrombosis in people who undergo TKR and have SARS-CoV-2 antibodies.

COVID-19 Translational Research Core at HSS

Principal Investigator: Theresa Lu, MD, PhD

Co-Investigators: Jessica Andrés-Bergós, PhD; Miguel Otero, PhD and Emily M. Stein, MD, MS

The COVID-19 Translational Research Core (TRC) was designed to fill critical gaps in the resources needed to promote the broad range of COVID-19–related clinical and translational research at HSS. The TRC will provide consultation on the design and implementation of COVID-19 research in the areas of orthopedics, rheumatology and metabolic bone disease; support for a COVID-19 biobank; and technical expertise and facilities required for clinical and translational researchers working on COVID-19–related projects. The TRC staff will help to acquire, house, and track biospecimens from investigator-initiated COVID-19–related research studies.

About HSS

HSS is the world’s leading academic medical center focused on musculoskeletal health. At its core is Hospital for Special Surgery, nationally ranked No. 1 in orthopedics (for the 14th consecutive year), No. 2 in rheumatology by U.S. News & World Report (2023-2024), and the best pediatric orthopedic hospital in NY, NJ and CT by U.S. News & World Report “Best Children’s Hospitals” list (2023-2024). In a survey of medical professionals in more than 20 countries by Newsweek, HSS is ranked world #1 in orthopedics for a fourth consecutive year (2023). Founded in 1863, the Hospital has the lowest readmission rates in the nation for orthopedics, and among the lowest infection and complication rates. HSS was the first in New York State to receive Magnet Recognition for Excellence in Nursing Service from the American Nurses Credentialing Center five consecutive times. An affiliate of Weill Cornell Medical College, HSS has a main campus in New York City and facilities in New Jersey, Connecticut and in the Long Island and Westchester County regions of New York State, as well as in Florida. In addition to patient care, HSS leads the field in research, innovation and education. The HSS Research Institute comprises 20 laboratories and 300 staff members focused on leading the advancement of musculoskeletal health through prevention of degeneration, tissue repair and tissue regeneration. In addition, more than 200 HSS clinical investigators are working to improve patient outcomes through better ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat orthopedic, rheumatic and musculoskeletal diseases. The HSS Innovation Institute works to realize the potential of new drugs, therapeutics and devices. The HSS Education Institute is a trusted leader in advancing musculoskeletal knowledge and research for physicians, nurses, allied health professionals, academic trainees, and consumers in more than 165 countries. The institution is collaborating with medical centers and other organizations to advance the quality and value of musculoskeletal care and to make world-class HSS care more widely accessible nationally and internationally.