Beyond Fauci: Meet the Science Superheroes Leading the U.S. COVID-19 Response

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The COVID-19 pandemic has been a world-changing event, forcing all of us to spend a lot of time thinking about change. More than ever, we’re inquiring about how diseases evolve, how new treatments and procedures are developed and adopted, and how up-and-coming experts are bringing new ideas and new ways of thinking to the medical landscape. We know that 2020 has brought a lot of new changes and concepts to the forefront of life. Words like quarantine and social distancing are part of our everyday lexicon as we learn to live in the ‘new normal.’ And one of the most important lessons we have learned is that there are heroes among us. From teachers and nurses to delivery and retail workers, our citizens have stepped up to support the effort.

Given that it’s ID Week, we’d like to highlight and honor a few of these heroes that surprisingly few know about – the scientists who are leading the charge against COVID-19.

Ralph Steven Baric, PhD

The Baric Laboratory at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC

Dr Ralph Steven Baric PhD

Dr. Baric has been at the forefront of coronavirus research for over 30 years, and is currently the William R. Kenan, Jr. Distinguished Professor in the Department of Epidemiology and Professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology at UNC-Chapel Hill. His passion for this previously obscure virus stems from his concern about the coronavirus’ ability to rapidly spread and its ability to jump across species. The global dangers present in coronavirus strains were an early warning sign to Dr. Baric, causing him to sound prophetic alarms before the events of late 2019 unfolded. Back in 2002, he predicted the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) outbreak and in 2018, he was already discussing the potential for our current pandemic originating from bats. 

Dr. Baric is currently developing antiviral treatments for patients and researching how the virus is replicating and spreading. In May 2021, Dr. Baric was inducted into the National Academy of Sciences, one of the highest distinctions for a scientist in the United States. 

Follow Baric Lab’s progress on Twitter: @Baric_Lab

Timothy Sheahan, PhD

The Baric Laboratory at UNC in Chapel Hill, NC

Dr Timothy Sheahan PhD

“With the development of broad-spectrum antiviral strategies, we are not only working to address SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 but also those in the future…COVID-28!”

– Timothy Sheahan, PhD

Dr. Sheahan is an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Gillings School of Global Public Health.  He is currently working on better understanding how viruses jump to humans, developing new models to study how emerging viruses cause disease and identifying drugs, antibodies and vaccines for the emerging viruses.

Follow Baric Lab’s progress on Twitter: @Baric_Lab

Linda Saif, PhD

The Saif Laboratory at Ohio State University in Wooster, OH

Dr Linda Saif PhD

“The real unsung Superheroes of the COVID-19 pandemic are the frontline health care workers and first responders, some of whom have given their own lives in trying to save the lives of COVID-19 patients. We owe them our deepest and enduring gratitude. Masks on to them!”

– Dr. Linda Saif PhD

Dr. Saif is the distinguished university professor at The Ohio State University (OSU) in the Food Animal Health Research Program (CFAES, OARDC) and the Veterinary Preventive Medicine Department (CVM, OSU).  She has been researching coronaviruses, immunity and vaccines for over 40 years and is recognized internationally as an expert on enteric viruses (rotaviruses, caliciviruses and coronaviruses) that affect food-producing animals, wildlife, and humans. 

In 1995, Dr. Saif’s lab was the first to document the interspecies transmission of coronaviruses from wild ruminants to cattle and from cattle to poultry. Dr. Saif holds 5 US/foreign patents and has authored or coauthored over 390 journal publications and 77 book chapters.

Follow her progress here.

Vincent Jacobus Munster, PhD

Rocky Mountain Laboratories at NIH in Hamilton, MT

Dr Vincent Jacobus Munster PhD

Dr. Munster is the Senior Investigator for the Virus Ecology Unit of The National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Dr. Munster established the Virus Ecology Unit in 2013 with the intention of combining field-acquired data and experimental lab work in a unilateral approach to identify the underlying changes in virus-host ecology that allow emerging viral pathogens to cross the species barrier. His lab leverages the data collected from Africa (the Republic of the Congo, Mali), the Caribbean (Trinidad and Tobago), and the Middle East (Jordan) and partners it with state-of-the-art high and maximum containment facilities to best leverage and investigate the data. His recent work produced much of our current understanding on the transmission and surface persistence of coronavirus.

Currently Dr. Munster is conducting pre-human research on the Oxford SARS-CoV-2 vaccine.

Follow his progress here.

Stanley Perlman, MD, PhD

The Perlman Laboratory at University of Iowa in Iowa City, IA

Dr Stanley Perlman MD PhD

Dr. Perlman is a professor of microbiology and immunology, professor of pediatrics and the Mark Stinski Chair in Virology at the University of Iowa. For over 35 years he has been studying coronaviruses and has been interested in the pathogenesis of murine (mouse) coronavirus infections. He and his lab have developed reverse genetics system for introducing mutations into the murine coronavirus, SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and MERS-CoV genomes with the ultimate goal of to understanding the interplay of pro- and anti-inflammatory factors that result in myelin and lung destruction. He often is looked to for insights into the overall landscape and impact of coronavirus epidemics and responses.

Currently Dr. Perlman is conducting research using mice infected with murine-adapted strains of SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 to understand the basis of these severe diseases.

Follow his progress here.

James Earl Crowe Jr., MD

The Crowe Laboratory at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN

Dr James Earl Crowe PhD

“Our team of human immunology and antibody engineering experts is passionate about bringing advances in antibody therapeutics to bear on the world burden of infectious diseases.”

– Dr. James Earl Crowe Jr. MD

Dr. Crowe is the Director of the Vanderbilt Vaccine Center, Professor of Pediatrics and Pathology, Microbiology and Immunology and the Ann Scott Carell Chair at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.  Additionally, He is the Founder of IDBiologics, Inc., an early stage biotech company developing human monoclonal antibodies for infectious diseases.  His work focuses on viral immunology and antibody sciences, attempting to discover mechanisms of immunity important to developing new therapeutics and vaccines.

Currently Dr. Crowe is conducting research for vaccine and monoclonal antibody development, and biotechnology for COVID-19.

Follow his lab’s progress on Twitter: @VUMC_Vaccines

Susan Weiss, PhD

The Weiss Laboratory at Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, PA

Dr Susan Weiss PhD

Dr. Weiss is a Professor and Vice Chair for the Department of Microbiology and Co-Director, Penn Center for Research on Coronaviruses and Other Emerging Pathogens. She has been focusing on coronaviruses since the 1980’s, primarily exploring the emerging pathogens that cause severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), as well as human coronavirus OC43 and human coronavirus 229E. 

Currently Dr. Weiss is conducting research utilizing reverse genetics helps to understand the spread of coronaviruses.

Follow her progress on Twitter: @PENNCoV

Jennifer Nuzzo, DrPH, SM

Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD

Jennifer Nuzzo DrPH SM

Dr. Nuzzo is a Senior Scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and an Associate Professor in the Department of Environmental Health and Engineering and the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  She focuses on outbreak detection and response, health systems as they relate to global health security, international and domestic biosurveillance, and infectious disease diagnostics.

Currently, Dr. Nuzzo is working on the U.S. response to COVID-19. She routinely provides perspectives and commentary to prominent journalists covering COVID, including an opinion piece in the New York Times.

Follow her progress on Twitter: @JenniferNuzzo

Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov, PhD

Center for Antibody Therapeutics (CAT) at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in Pittsburgh, PA

Dr Dimiter Stanchev Dimitrov PhD

Dr. Dimitrov is senior author of the Cell publication and director of Pitt’s Center for Antibody Therapeutics, was one of the first to discover neutralizing antibodies for the original SARS coronavirus in 2003. In the ensuing years, his team discovered potent antibodies against many other infectious diseases, including those caused by MERS-CoV, dengue, Hendra and Nipah viruses. The antibody against Hendra and Nipah viruses has been evaluated in humans and approved for clinical use on a compassionate basis in Australia.

Recently Dr. Dimitrov’s lab isolated the smallest biological molecule to date that completely and specifically neutralizes the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which is the cause of COVID-19.

Follow the lab’s progress here.

Florian Krammer, PhD

The Krammer Laboratory at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York, NY

Dr. Krammer is a Professor of Vaccinology at the Department of Microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai and a member of the Vaccine and Edward Jenner Society Young Investigator Program. In addition, he is a scientific adviser for enGenes and PathSensors.  The Krammer Laboratory – which is also part of the NIH-funded Centers for Excellence in Influenza Research and Surveillance (CEIRS) – focuses on understanding broadly-reactive immune responses against the surface glycoproteins of RNA viruses such as influenza, with the goal to develop better vaccines and novel therapeutics.

The Krammer Laboratory is currently working to provide reagents and standardized protocols for COVID-19 testing.

Follow his progress on Twitter: @florian_krammer

­­­­­­Behind the List:

MediFind is the industry authority on identifying the leading medical experts and latest research in order to help patients facing the most complex and challenging diseases make better health decisions. Leveraging our expertise in natural language processing and machine learning, we applied our world-class models to uncover the researchers leading the United States’ response to COVID-19. MediFind identifies leading experts using world-class models that assess over 2.5 million global doctors based on a range of variables, including research leadership, patient volume, peer standing, and connectedness to other experts. To learn more about MediFind and how it works, visit

This report serves as a companion piece to a recently published analysis from MediFind which found:
1. Research into COVID-19 and closely-related conditions now represents 23% of all research output
2. Research into nearly every other condition is down, with particularly steep declines in cancer and infectious disease research. 

This “crowding-out effect” has serious potential long-term ramifications. Medical research is a cumulative process, and typically, there’s a significant time lag between most research and improvements in patient outcomes. Consequently, the diversion of resources to COVID-19 will almost certainly lead to a long-term slowdown in advances for these conditions. Additional coverage of these findings was featured in a series on Contagion Live

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