Responding to COVID-19

Research Updates

Although UT Southwestern’s current clinical trials have been impacted by the spread of COVID-19, we’re also expanding our efforts investigating therapy options to help successfully treat the devastating disease. We’re encouraging both health care workers and the general public to get involved in registry and research opportunities. 

Current Clinical Trial Restrictions 

In an effort to minimize the risks of COVID-19 to our patients, research participants, and staff, UT Southwestern has placed temporary restrictions on clinical trials. As part of this temporary policy:

  • Only treatment-related visits for drug therapies, medical devices, or interventions will continue.
  • All in-person, nonessential research visits are suspended. This includes trials that may require direct participant interaction but no therapeutic benefit. 
  • Home visits for studies that have no direct or therapeutic benefit to participants will also be placed on hold.
  • When alternative methods of interacting with research participants can be implemented, such as phone calls, Skype meetings, email, or U.S. mail, select trials may continue. When that is the case, participants will be informed by a member of the research team.

UT Southwestern will regularly evaluate these restrictions and adjust them as warranted. We’re keeping this site up-to-date with the most current guidelines and information. 

Two New Drugs Being Evaluated for Potential Treatment

UT Southwestern’s William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital is currently evaluating two drugs for potential treatment of COVID-19 as part of multicenter clinical trials.

The first is a drug called remdesivir, which is being tested in patients who have COVID-19 and are experiencing low oxygen levels. Remdesivir is an antiviral agent that has shown some effectiveness against the virus in animal models of MERS and SARS, which have similarities to COVID-19. Remdesivir is still an experimental medicine that has not been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for any condition, but it is under evaluation for COVID-19.

The second drug, sarilumab is a monoclonal antibody to defend against interleukin 6 (IL-6), which has been shown to cause inflammation in patients with COVID-19. IL-6 is also thought to be involved in the extreme antibody response that may cause Adult Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS) in the lungs. Sarilumab has been approved by the FDA for treatment of rheumatologic disease, but COVID-19 would be a new use should it be proven safe and effective in trials.

Patients admitted to UT Southwestern for COVID-19 are evaluated and, if they meet the eligibility criteria, will be asked whether they would like to participate in a clinical trial to discover treatments for the disease.

COVID-19 Antibody Testing FAQs for Patients

Testing to detect the presence of antibodies that can fight the COVID-19 virus has taken center stage recently as the scientific community continues to search for ways to slow the global pandemic. A variety of tests is being offered nationwide, which to some extent has created some confusion surrounding the purpose and effectiveness of each. UT Southwestern infectious disease experts James “Brad” Cutrell, M.D. provides answers to some of the most frequently asked questions about antibody testing in general, and talks specifically about the the tests being used at UT Southwestern.

What is antibody testing for COVID-19?

Serology, or antibody testing, is a blood test that looks for proteins (antibodies) made by the body’s immune system to indicate prior exposure to a virus, in this case SARS-CoV-2, which causes COVID-19.

What is the difference between a COVID-19 test and a COVID-19 antibody test?

The COVID-19 test takes a nasal swab or saliva specimen and uses a technology called PCR (polymerase chain reaction) to detect when a person is actively infected with SARS-CoV-2 virus. Antibody testing takes a drop of blood from your finger and uses it to detect antibodies that indicate recent or prior exposure to SARS-CoV-2.

How long does it take for someone to develop antibodies to COVID-19?

It usually takes one to two weeks after becoming sick with COVID-19 for your body’s immune system to make antibodies against the virus.

What types of antibodies are there?

There are several different subtypes of antibodies, including IgM, IgG, and IgA. The current UT Southwestern antibody test detects IgG antibodies, or immunoglobulin G, which are the most common form of antibodies found in blood and body fluids.

What does a positive test for the antibody IgG mean?

A positive IgG result indicates that a person has been exposed to the virus. There is currently not enough information to know if a positive IgG result indicates the presence of protective immunity or how long immunity might last. It's also possible to have a positive IgG result and still be sick and infectious to someone else.

What does a negative antibody test for IgG mean?

A negative result indicates that a person has not yet developed antibodies against the virus. This could be due to a lack of exposure to the virus, or because testing was done too early in the course of the COVID-19 disease (before 7-14 days of symptom onset), or due to a weakened immune system resulting from other treatments or medical conditions.

How accurate is the antibody test offered at UT Southwestern?

Preliminary results from internal testing at our lab and the manufacturer’s facility suggests this test is very accurate (low rate of false positive and false negative tests), and it has received emergency use authorization by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Some lesser tests have been shown to cross-react with antibodies of several strains of virus that cause the common cold, which are also coronaviruses. However, as additional data is generated, we will learn more about the accuracy of the test results in our patients.

What are the recommended uses for COVID-19 antibody tests at this time?

The serology test may be used by your doctor to aid in the diagnosis of active infection with COVID-19, especially if your PCR test is negative and you have had symptoms for more than seven days. It also may be used to identify prior infection with COVID-19 if you had a similar illness in early 2020 that went undiagnosed. Additionally, the test can help researchers and public health officials better understand the scope of the COVID-19 disease. The test is not currently recommended for use in determining when someone can discontinue isolation or return to work.

Why is antibody testing not being recommended for everyone right now?

There is still some uncertainty about the degree to which antibody test results indicate protection against future infection with SARS-CoV-2 (protective immunity), or how long any protection may last. Also, the testing capacity remains somewhat limited. Therefore, we are reserving the use of antibody testing for individuals whose results may help guide their care. If a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available or antibody testing capacity increases, that policy will change accordingly.

Can I be a convalescent plasma donor if my IgG antibody test is positive?

If your IgG serology is positive, you may be a candidate to donate convalescent plasma to help another individual who is sick with COVID-19. Convalescent plasma is a therapy that involves taking blood from a patient who has recovered from COVID-19, separating the antibody-rich plasma from their blood, and injecting it into patients who are still trying to fight the virus. You can visit UT Southwestern’s convalescent plasma website to find out more about the process and to register as a potential donor.

In the News

FDA-approved drugs could help fight COVID-19

Drugs that are already approved by the FDA could hold promise in fighting COVID-19, according to computer modeling studies performed by UT Southwestern scientists, including Hesham Sadek, M.D., Ph.D. The findings could open new avenues for treating patients. 

A human protein that potently inhibits coronavirus

A protein produced by the human immune system can potently inhibit several coronaviruses, including the one behind the current COVID-19 outbreak. John Schoggins, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Microbiology at UT Southwestern Medical Center, was part of the international team of investigators.

Data scientists ID potential vulnerabilities in the COVID-19 virus

UT Southwestern data scientists analyzing genetic sequences of the COVID-19 coronavirus have identified potential vulnerabilities that could help in vaccine development and further study of the infectious disease. Yang Xie, Ph.D.,and Tao Wang, Ph.D., co-led the study.

Academics Research

Opportunities to Help with COVID-19 Research 

Help Track COVID-19’s Spread with an App 
Whether you’re sick or healthy, you can play a part in COVID-19 research. The COVID Symptom Tracker is an app created by doctors and scientists that studies the symptoms of COVID-19 and tracks its spread. 

It’s a unique opportunity for anyone to help contribute to COVID-19 tracking and relief efforts. Data collected from the app will provide the health care system with critical information that can help slow the outbreak. In just a minute a day, you can report your health, get a daily estimate of COVID exposure in your area, and learn how to help slow any local outbreak. 

Join the millions of people helping to fight COVID-19.

Uniting the Health Care Community to Protect Frontline Workers
Are you a health care worker in the U.S.? The Healthcare Worker Exposure Response & Outcomes (HERO) Registry is asking U.S. health care workers to share their clinical and life experiences in order to understand the perspectives and problems faced by those on the COVID-19 front lines. The registry will also facilitate rapid-cycle research, including an upcoming large study of hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness in preventing coronavirus infections in health care workers. The HERO research program is funded by the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI).

Therapeutic Plasma Exchange mobile banner

Using Plasma from Recovered COVID-19 Patients

The FDA recently approved emergency use of COVID-19 "convalescent" plasma, which is collected from people who have fully recovered from COVID-19. This provides an additional investigational therapy treatment option for critically ill patients.

People who have recovered from COVID-19 – those who previously tested positive and are now asymptomatic and test negative – have built up high levels of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) that defend their body against the virus. Collecting plasma from a recovered individual and then injecting it into a person still fighting the virus could help stimulate a stronger immune response in the sick individual. 

Convalescent plasma is collected using a specialized machine that separates red blood cells from the plasma, selectively culling plasma (which contains the antibodies needed to fight the virus) and returning red blood cells back to the donor. The convalescent plasma is then stored in a blood bank and can be used to transfuse critically ill patients.

At UT Southwestern, we’re carefully screening patients who are interested in donating plasma. Donors of COVID-19 convalescent plasma need to meet specific criteria to ensure safety of the donor and staff, and are based on FDA requirements.

Patients, family members, and physicians can learn more about donating or acquiring plasma, including eligibility requirements and the screening and donation process. 

Robert Haley.2

Ask the Expert: Learnings from the Spanish Flu

As the number of COVID-19 cases grows worldwide, some have compared the virus to another global pandemic that dates back to the early 20th century: the Spanish flu. Watch our chat with epidemiologist Robert Haley, M.D., to learn whether it's an appropriate comparison. Watch the video

Supporting Discovery Through New Workgroups 

To support research into the biology of SARS-CoV-2 and the treatment of COVID-19, we’ve established two important workgroups at UT Southwestern: a SARS-CoV-2 Biorepository and a COVID-19 Patient Registry. These groups provide centralized, parallel resources that will help facilitate UT Southwestern’s efforts in conducting research on COVID-19 and its treatment. 

Please continue to visit this page for updates on UT Southwestern’s COVID-19 research efforts.