While the precise origins and timeline of COVID-19 remain unclear, in December of 2019 doctors realized that they were dealing with a dangerous new virus causing severe acute respiratory syndrome in Wuhan, China. Despite efforts at containment, the SARS-CoV-2 virus rapidly spread around the world.
As part of the national response to this pandemic, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) established the National Virtual Biotechnology Laboratory (NVBL, science.osti.gov/nvbl) in March 2020 to address key challenges associated with the COVID-19 crisis, supported by funding from the 2020 CARES Act. The NVBL brought together the broad scientific and technical expertise and resources of DOE’s 17 national laboratories to address medical supply shortages, discover potential drugs to fight the virus, develop and verify COVID-19 testing methods, model disease spread and impact across the nation, and understand virus transport in buildings and the environment. National laboratory resources leveraged for this effort include the DOE Office of Science’s suite of world-leading user facilities, including the light and neutron sources, nanoscale science research centers, sequencing and biocharacterization facilities, and high-performance computing facilities.
Within just a few months, NVBL teams produced innovations in materials and advanced manufacturing that mitigated shortages in test kits and personal protective equipment (PPE), creating nearly 1,000 new jobs. They used DOE’s high-performance computers and light and neutron sources to identify promising candidates for antibodies and antivirals that universities and drug companies are now evaluating. NVBL researchers also developed new diagnostic targets and sample collection approaches and supported U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and Department of Defense (DoD) efforts to establish national guidelines used in administering millions of tests. Researchers used artificial intelligence and high-performance computing to produce near-real-time analysis of data to forecast disease transmission, stress on public health infrastructure, and economic impact, supporting decision-makers at the local, state, and national levels. NVBL teams also studied how to control indoor virus movement to minimize uptake and protect human health.
This seminar will discuss examples of NVBL’s COVID-19 accomplishments as well as potential future directions. The NVBL serves as an outstanding model for developing and sustaining DOE’s capabilities to respond to future national needs or emergencies.
Speaker: Stephen Streiffer, Argonne National Laboratory
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