Leading the Fight: South Florida researchers developing COVID-19 vaccines, treatments

(WSVN) - Since the pandemic was declared one year ago Thursday, the 7 Investigates team has been with the scientists leading the fight against COVID, and today, the brightest minds in South Florida are working on cutting-edge vaccines and treatments to get our lives back to normal. Kevin Ozebek has tonight’s special assignment report.

FAU researcher: “Please walk at a slow pace.”

It looks like a simple mobility test, but what you’re seeing could be the key to uncovering the remaining mysteries of COVID-19.

Dr. Gregg Fields, Florida Atlantic University: “There are people who seem perfectly healthy, and they become very, very sick.”

Dr. Gregg Fields of Florida Atlantic University is collecting blood and saliva samples from South Floridians who had COVID.

People like Stacey Gardner.

Stacey Gardner, recovered from COVID: “I never got back 100% my sense of smell.”

FAU researcher: “Name a girl’s name starting with the letter A.”

Stacey Gardner: “Anise.”

The research includes neurological tests to gather as much data as possible.

Dr. Gregg Fields: “There does appear to be some issues neurologically. There are some balance issues. People talk of this foggy brain syndrome.”

Dr. Fields will be tracking volunteers like Stacey for three years to find out if there are long-term effects from COVID-19. He has freezers full of saliva and blood samples ready for genetic analysis.

Dr. Gregg Fields: “There may be certain genetic aspects that we may become aware of, that we can then use that information to help others.”

If Dr. Fields can discover why some COVID patients get so sick and others do not, it may unlock the door to what he calls “personalized medicine.” COVID treatments could be better tailored to your own genetic make-up and immune system.

Dr. Gregg Fields: “South Florida is very diverse, and that will let us know the treatment strategies that might be most effective regardless of what your ethnic background is.”

While some South Florida scientists are focused on treatments, others are developing potentially game changing COVID vaccines.

Dr. Michael Farzan, Scripps Research: “I am having so much fun because we are FedExing our vaccine to our collaborators in Maryland.”

When we first met Dr. Michael Farzan in February of last year, he was already racing to develop a COVID vaccine. Now he has created one that can be mailed anywhere in the world, without needing to be kept cold.

He and his colleagues at Scripps Research can grind their vaccine into a powder. Once mixed with sterile water, it can be injected.

Pharmaceutical companies are currently looking at their vaccine.

Dr. Michael Farzan: “We have modified the piece of the virus to be stable and heat resistant as well, and this is what allows us to dry it down and then reconstitute it.”

If you look at the COVID virus, magnify the spike protein, and then look at the part highlighted in blue, that’s the part Dr. Farzan has stabilized. It makes for an effective vaccine, and one that can be used to combat multiple variants in one dose.

Dr. Michael Farzan: “I am fairly optimistic that we’ll be moving toward normal life, even by the end of this year.”

Both Drs. Farzan and Fields say COVID is here to stay, at least for some time, but thanks to scientists like them leading the fight, our lives could start to look like they did pre-pandemic, even with the virus still here.

If you had COVID and are willing to take part in FAU’s study, they will come to you to collect samples and pay you a small fee.

Florida Atlantic University COVID-19 research

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