In order to speed innovation in the development, commercialization, and implementation of technologies for COVID-19 testing, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) launched the Rapid Acceleration of Diagnostics (RADx) initiative. The NIH seeks to support opportunities to make diagnostics move more quickly through commercialization, with the goal of making more tests available to Americans.

Recently, the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), was awarded five RADx projects, totaling nearly $33 million over four years.

There are several programs within the RADx initiative, including the RADx Underserved Populations (RADx-UP) program, which funds projects aimed at understanding why some communities are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 and reducing the factors associated with these disparities, and the RADx Radical (RADx-rad) program, which supports innovative approaches to addressing gaps in COVID-19 testing.

“The RADx program responds to the nation’s need for innovative solutions in diagnostic technologies that are people-centric, and utilize expertise in infectious diseases, informatics, data science, clinical pathology, bioengineering, and many other related areas,” said Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, PhD, chair of the department of biomedical informatics at UCSD Health. “It includes, for example, artificial intelligence models that will help detect and prognosticate disease using novel sensors. Lessons learned from the current focus on COVID-19 will be leveraged in many other health sciences challenges, and data will be shared to accelerate other discoveries.”

UCSD’s RADx-rad and RADx-UP projects include:

RADx-rad Discoveries & Data: Consortium Coordination Center Program Organization

This project will use advanced data management to coordinate a consortium of innovative COVID-19 diagnostic technology developers. The partnership between UCSD and the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston brings together informatics/data scientists and infectious diseases specialists who will standardize viral samples, testing and procedures, and data, in order to integrate and share data in a meaningful manner.

Amount: $23,817,692 over four years

Project Leaders: Lucila Ohno-Machado, MD, PhD, professor and director of BioMedical Informatics for the Clinical and Translational Research Institute, UCSD; Eliah Aronoff-Spencer, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine at UCSD School of Medicine and Qualcomm Institute at UCSD; Hua Xu, PhD, professor at UTHealth School of Biomedical Informatics and director of the Center for Computational Biomedicine at UTHealth.

Harnessing Technological Innovation and Community-Engaged Implementation Science to Optimize COVID-19 Testing for Women and Children in Underserved Communities

This study seeks to maximize COVID-19 testing among pregnant women and children in an area of San Diego near the United States-Mexico border that has been noted to have the highest local incidence of COVID-19.

Amount: $4,970,492 over two years

Project Leaders: Robert Tukey, PhD, professor of pharmacology at UCSD School of Medicine; Louise Laurent, MD, PhD, professor of obstetrics, gynecology, and reproductive sciences, vice chair for translational research, and director of perinatal research at UCSD School of Medicine

COVID-19 testing in Underserved and Vulnerable Populations Receiving Care in San Diego Community Health Centers

In partnership with Health Quality Partners of Southern California and the laboratory of Louise Laurent, MD, PhD, at UCSD School of Medicine, the study will develop, test, and evaluate a rapid, scalable, capacity-building project to enhance COVID-19 testing in three regional community health centers in San Diego County. Testing will be conducted among asymptomatic individuals who are at increased risk for severe COVID illness. Investigators will also gather insights from patients, providers, health center leadership, and community stakeholders to establish best practices for future scale-up of COVID-19 testing sustainability and vaccination.

Amount: $1,692,794 over two years

Project Leaders: Jesse Nodora, DrPH, associate professor in the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science and director of community engagement at the Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute at UCSD; Linda Hill, MD, professor, Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health; María Elena Martínez, PhD, professor in the Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health, the Sam M. Walton endowed chair for cancer research, and associate director of population science, disparities, and community engagement at UCSD Moores Cancer Center

Diagnosing and Predicting Risk in Children with SARS-CoV-2-Related Illness

This project will define the antibody repertoire against all known human coronaviruses and determine how pre-existing antibodies to other coronaviruses may shape the immune response in acute SARS-CoV-2 infection and multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children.

Amount: $1,396,830 over two years

Project Leader: Jane Burns, MD, pediatrician at Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego and director of the Kawasaki Disease Research Center at UCSD School of Medicine

Validation of Smart Masks for Surveillance of COVID-19

This project will develop a “smart mask” that changes colors when exposed to enzymes of COVID-19 (Mpro and PLP proteases specific to the SARS viruses) found in saliva. The mask concentrates them from aerosolized saliva when the subject breathes and speaks. Biobank saliva samples are being leveraged to help determine the specificity of the mask.

Amount: $1,045,704 over three years

Project Leader: Jesse Jokerst, PhD, professor of nanoengineering at UCSD Jacobs School of Engineering

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