Steven L. Kunkel

News & Research

Research Ramps Up to Meet Pandemic and Post-Pandemic Demands

Summer 2020
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In the first week of June, our Medical School research community was in the early stages of “reactivation” at the University of Michigan, after spending over two months away from our labs due to COVID-19. Hundreds of our faculty and staff had been given the go-ahead to resume work in the Biomedical Science Research Building, following very strict guidelines for safety and social distancing. This group was a pilot, and reactivation proved it was safe for more researchers to be able to gradually re-enter our other facilities as the summer progressed. Safety is paramount, and as scientists we are relying on the data to help guide us through this complex process. We have to get this right, since, in addition to the high priority of researcher safety, the university used the success of our reactivation as an early indicator to help inform how students would return to campus in the fall. 

Even with the challenges of this spring’s research ramp down, I am proud to share with you that our U-M biomedical researchers have continued to be on the forefront of exciting work related to the pandemic. COVID-19 clinical trials are being fast-tracked by our Clinical Trials Support Office and their partners for launch and patient enrollment. For instance, Kevin Gregg, M.D., is conducting a trial to determine whether sarilumab (Kevzara), an Interleukin-6 inhibitor, is efficacious in reducing inflammation in COVID-19 patients. Daniel Kaul, M.D. (Residency 1997, Fellowship 2001), has launched two trials examining the potential of remdesivir to act as an antiviral therapy for COVID-19 patients. 

In addition to clinical trials like these, a variety of other COVID-related research activities are going on behind the scenes at Michigan Medicine. For instance, Benjamin Bassin, M.D., Nathan Haas, M.D., and Kevin Ward, M.D., are collaborating with our College of Engineering colleagues on new negative-pressure technologies that will help protect front-line caregivers treating COVID-19 patients. And as of late May, our Central Biorepository had more than 20,000 biospecimens from COVID-19 patients that had been collected and were available for collaborative research as our team members return to their labs. 

Moving forward, biomedical research has a huge role to play in the battle against COVID-19, and our faculty will be among many around the world who will identify, develop, and test treatments for this disease. If you were here with us, I think you would be very impressed by the resilience, dedication, and compassion of the Medical School researchers as they have tackled this pandemic crisis head on. But I’d speculate that you would not be surprised because, like me, I’m sure you’ve always known that the researchers of the U-M Medical School are truly the leaders and best. 

Steven L. Kunkel, Ph.D. 
Executive Vice Dean for Research, Medical School 
Chief Scientific Officer, Michigan Medicine 
Peter A. Ward Distinguished University Professor 
Endowed Professor of Pathology Research