Coronavirus research at the RNA Institute

UAlbany COVID-19 Page

RNA Institute COVID-19 Research

Researchers rapidly pivot to tackle pressing global COVID-19 pandemic

UAlbany researchers conduct COVID-19 pooled surveillance testing at the RNA Institute on Wednesday, September 2, 2020. (photo by Patrick Dodson)

One of the RNA Institute's strength lies in the central role RNA plays in a vast array of biological and chemical processes, including the single-stranded SARS-CoV-2 RNA coronavirus that is the cause of the global COVID-19 pandemic. With New York State at the heart of the pandemic, our researchers were able to quickly pivot their research programs to tackle pressing issues related to SARS-CoV-2 biology, detection, transmission, and treatment. In close collaboration with outside laboratories who handled the active virus, our researchers went to work in minimal essential teams in closed buildings working under strict heath and safety conditions. The ability to rapidly pivot our research towards regional, federal, and global issues of importance is one of the reasons the RNA Institute is a vital resource to the Capital Region and New York State.

Highlights of Ongoing COVID-19 Research at RNA Institute

  • Dr. Ken Halvorsen received a National Science Foundation RAPID Award for the development of a rapid SARS-CoV-2 Test. The lab is re-engineering their DNA nanoswitch assay to deliver COVID-19 test results within one hour without the need of a laboratory, an approach that has received a lot attention and press coverage.
  • Dr. Andrew Berglund is collaborating with SUNY Upstate Medical University to investigate clusters of COVID-19 patients in Upstate New York by sequencing RNA from patients, their microbiome, and the SARS-CoV-2 virus. This information will help to understand the genetics and transmission of the virus as well as an invaluable long-term resource for SUNY scientists and global research teams.
  • Dr. Cara Pager is collaborating with Dr. Berglund on the later stages of the Upstate COVID-19 investigation by examining the role of RNA modifications in SARS-CoV-2 biology. Dr. Pager specializes in understanding how RNA viruses subvert cellular RNA metabolism pathways and is interested in how epitranscriptomic marks modulate viral gene expression. Her work may provide clues to how this virus and others impact patient health and influence patterns of transmission.
  • Dr. Alex Valm, a human microbiome expert, received UAlbany SEED funding for his project "Novel Technology for Mapping the Spatial Structure of the COVID-19 Salivary microbiome." By comparing saliva from healthy and COVID-19 patients his research team hopes to understand how mouth microbial communities function to prevent infection.
  • Dr. Scott Tenenbaum, a leading expert on nanoscale science, was awarded funding by SUNY to fabricate a COVID-19 diagnostic test based on his innovative structurally interacting RNA (sxRNA). The project, which partners with Ciencia Inc and the Wadsworth Center, is aimed at detecting not only the infection but also patient immune response and disease status.
  • Dr. Mehmet Yigit, an expert in chemical bionanotechnology, received UAlbany SEED funding for his project "Visual Rapid Tests of COVID-19 Biomarkers for On-Site Diagnostics." This project seeks to create an ultrasensitive, cost-efficient, and programmable detection based on Yigit's team's nanoparticle technology.
COVID-19-Related Projects
Pooled Surveillance Testing

The College of Art and Science’s RNA Institute has partnered with UAlbany’s School of Public Health to provide pooled surveillance testing to all students and staff on campus. The simple and non-invasive weekly test measures the presence of the virus using a saliva sample, collected by spitting in a test tube, and then dropped off at a designated contactless station. Scientists then group four samples together, add a chemical solution, and perform a sensitive PCR based assay to determine if SARS-CoV-2 viral RNA is present in the pooled samples.

Read more about our Pooled Surveillance Testing Program    |    Visit the UAlbany pooled testing page

RNA Institute Members' Coronavirus Research

These research projects, which utilize labs outside the main SUNY campus for any active virus research, are designed to understand the virus, improve current testing approaches, and explore potential new therapeutics.