Where Discovery Creates Hope

Medical School

A monthly series:

Where Discovery Creates Hope

A resource for Minnesota: How the University of Minnesota is responding to the health challenges of the pandemic

Minnesota is a state full of incredible resources: our rich farmland, beautiful lakes and forests, sites sacred to our indigenous peoples, culture of biotechnical innovation, and people with a strong work ethic and desire to help others. One of the state’s resources is the University of Minnesota.

At the University, our richest resource is our people — physicians, scientists, educators, staff, and students. In the week between March 16 and 23, we saw many of these people shift their focus to understanding, treating, and preventing COVID-19.

The Medical School is funding COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants in which resources from throughout the University are coming together to address the unique problems of this virus and the pandemic by: improving patient care with new therapies and equipment, running clinical trials of new treatments, developing diagnostic tests and testing capacity, and providing care to patients with COVID-19.

Voices of Hope

To reflect this rapid transformation, the format of this week’s story is different from the rest of this series. Today you will hear from some of the people from across the University who are working to change the course of this virus now and in the future.

Attacking The Virus

Alon Herschhorn, PhD
Medical School

Herschhorn, an expert on infectious disease and AIDS, is now using his knowledge of viruses to identify ways to attack the vulnerabilities of emerging coronaviruses.

Increasing Testing

Sophia L Yohe, MD
Medical School

How do you increase COVID-19 testing? Yohe knows. She led the effort to repurpose equipment from labs across campus to create a new COVID-19 testing lab and develop a fully validated coronavirus test in five days.

Preventing Immune Damage

Joshua Rhein, MD
Medical School

Some people with no underlying conditions become sicker because their immune system overreacts to COVID-19, causing inflammation. Rhein is testing a new therapy using natural killer cells to attack the virus and moderate the immune response.

Computer Simulation

David Odde, PhD
College of Science and Engineering

Odde creates disease simulators to predict the progression of cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. He extended his research in these areas to work on a simulator to help predict clinical trial outcomes for new COVID-19 therapies.

Developing Vaccine

Yuying Liang, MS, PhD
College of Veterinary Medicine

Using technology developed in her laboratory, Liang is creating a sensitive test for COVID-19 that could diagnose infection in people whether or not they have symptoms. She is also developing COVID-19 vaccines.

Harnessing Immunology

Bruce Walcheck, PhD
College of Veterinary Medicine

Walcheck studies an enzyme called ADAM-17 that impacts how vulnerable cells are to COVID-19 infection and how the immune response is activated. His lab can block this enzyme, and is exploring if that can reduce infection and damaging immune overreaction.

Creating Rapid Field Test

Mark J. Osborn, PhD
Medical School

An expert in genome engineering for pediatric genetic diseases, Osborn is applying his skills to create a rapid field test for COVID-19. Still at the experimental stage, these inexpensive test strips could allow testing and results without special lab equipment.

Testing Losartan

Christopher Tignanelli, MD
Medical School

Losartan, used to treat high blood pressure, reduced lung injury in SARS patients. Chinese research in COVID-19 showed similar results. Tignanelli’s team investigated how this drug works and have a clinical trial ready (pending FDA approval) to test it here.

Repurposing Technology

Michael Usher, MD, PhD
Medical School

Faced with a surge of patients with COVID-19, Usher is integrating his expertise in hospital care and in technology to test how video conferencing and personal tablets can be used to ensure patients get the care they need while also protecting caregivers.

Bridging Social Distance

Jude Mikal, PhD
School of Public Health

Specializing in the science of how connectedness can help us weather crises, Mikal wants to use his expertise to help evaluate social media as a way to bridge the unprecedented social distancing needed to combat COVID-19.

Gillian Tarr, PhD, CPH
School of Public Health

Helping Families

Epidemiologists Tarr, an infectious disease expert, and Ramirez, an expert in injury and disaster response, are combining their expertise to develop ways to support families coping with social distancing and the disruption of regular life.

Marizen Ramirez, PhD, MPH
School of Public Health

Dr. Jakub Tolar

Jakub Tolar, MD, PhD

Dean, Medical School, Campus Public Health Officer

The University of Minnesota Medical School educates physicians. That’s an important part of academic medicine. But that’s not all we do.

The goal of academic medicine is to treat patients while looking for better therapies. We take the toughest problems from the clinic and look for solutions in the research laboratories. Many of our physicians — leaders in their fields — are also scientists.

With our clinical partners, we hope to bring cutting-edge care to communities statewide, giving more Minnesotans access to the benefits of our research.


University of Minnesota Campus Public Health Office:


420 Delaware Street SE | Minneapolis, MN 55455