George Mason University Health College Continues NSF Funded Study of Coronaviruses

National Science Foundation grant enables Dr. Amira Roess to continue investigating Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV2) and related coronaviruses

Dr. Amira Roess continues research on the emergence and spread of coronaviruses with move to George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services.

The College of Health and Human Services received a grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study the emergence and spread of coronaviruses such as COVID-19, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS-CoV2), and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). Dr. Amira Roess, who joined Mason’s faculty in the fall of 2019 as a professor in the Department of Global and Community Health, is the principal investigator on the grant. Roess studies the spread of MERS-CoV2, a novel coronavirus, between wildlife, camels and humans in East Africa.

The original $2.45million grant for this research was awarded to Roess when she was at George Washington University (GWU) in 2018 (Grant number 1816064). Roess will continue to oversee this multidisciplinary collaboration between colleagues at American University, Charité – Universitätsmedizin Berlin, GWU, University of Georgia, Addis Ababa Science and Technology University, and Dilla University on this multi-year research project.

Funding from this grant allows for continued development of models that predict coronavirus emergence and transmission by incorporating environmental, social, behavioral, and cultural factors.  

“Bringing this NSF grant to Mason will allow us to continue doing the analysis and monitoring required to understand coronavirus epidemiology, including why some strains are more contagious than others and why some have higher fatality rates,” says Roess, “our research seeks to better understand the role of antibodies and that will allow us to develop public health responses to lower infection risk.”  Her ongoing coronavirus research continues to help inform public health practices related to COVID-19 at the federal, state, and local level.

“It has never been more critical to advance this research as we experience the global implications of the COVID-19 pandemic. NSF support will allow the College to understand and disseminate life-saving knowledge of coronaviruses and develop public health protocols to fight COVID-19,” says Dr. Germaine Louis, professor and dean of the College of Health and Human Services.      

Coronaviruses are a family of related viruses that mostly infect birds and mammals and are known to infect humans. When present in humans, the viruses can cause mild infections in the upper respiratory tract as well as more serious lower respiratory tract infections. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, the number of coronaviruses cases reported globally was low (SARS-CoV 8,400; MERS-CoV 2,500, COVID-19 1.4 million*), with a high case fatality rate (SARS-CoV 9.6%; MERS-CoV 34%, COVID-19 1.38%-3.4%*). 

* As of April 9, 2020