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.
  • Dr. Nathaniel Cady, professor at the College of Nanoscale Science & Engineering, SUNY Polytechnic Institute, partnered with Ciencia Inc. and the New York State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center, to develop a COVID-19 antibody test that takes only 30 minutes. The work has been published in Biosensors and Bioelectronics, January 2021.
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.

06-02-2021 UAlbany Takes an 'all-hands-on-deck' approach to fighting against COVID-19 - News 10 ABC

01-01-2021 Multiplexed detection and quantification of human antibody response to COVID-19 infection using a plasmon enhanced biosensor platform - Biosensors and Bioelectronics

09-28-2020 Developments in Pooled Testing Narrow Down Positive Cases – Albany News Center

09-28-2020 Detecting COVID-19 Antibodies in 30 minutes - RNA Institute

09-10-2020 COVID-19 Pooled Surveillance Testing is Underway – Albany News Center

09-11-2020 Ultra-Cheap, Sensitive DNA Nanoswitch Tech Developed for SARS-CoV-2 Detection - 360Dx

09-02-2020 UAlbany Spearheads Pooled Saliva Testing on Students and Staff – Spectrum News

09-02-2020 Toward COVID-19 Testing Any Time, Anywhere – The Scientist

08-08-2020 Saliva Test of COVID-19: Researchers Enable Alternative to Nasal Swabs – U.S. News

09-01-2020 Chancellor Malatras Visits Campus to Unveil Pooled Surveillance Testing – UAlbany News Center

08-31-2020 UAlbany launching pooled testing program this week – WNYT News Channel 13

08-26-2020 UAlbany’s COVID-19 pooled testing will monitor thousands on campus – Times Union

08-24-2020 New drool-based tests are replacing the dreaded coronavirus nasal swab – Science Magazine

An RNA Institute team member analyzes saliva samples from the University's pooled surveillance testing program. Photo by Patrick Dodson.

08-21-2020 A Platform for low cost and rapid detection of viral rna – Science Advances

08-13-2020 How some students spend their summer break Researching COVID-19 – New York State Writers Institute

08-03-2020 RNA Institute Summer Fellowship Program steps up to fight COVID-19 and it’s impact on education

05-13-2020 UAlbany Research Team Trying to Make Faster COVID-19 Test - Spectrum News

05-13-2020 CBS 6 Investigates: Inside the Albany lab developing new rapid COVID-19 testing - CBS6 News

05-08-2020 UAlbany's RNA Institute busy with coronavirus research - Times Union

05-07-2020 UAlbany research scientist receives funding to develop rapid coronavirus test - News10 ABC

05-07-2020 RNA Scientist Receives NSF Funding for Rapid Coronavirus Testing - Newswise

05-07-2020 UAlbany scientist leading research on faster and more cost effective coronavirus test - CBS6 News

05-07-2020 UAlbany researcher wins federal grant to create COVID-19 test - Times Union

05-07-2020 RNA Scientist Receives NSF Funding for Rapid Coronavirus Testing - UAlbany News Center

05-05-2020 UAlbany Researchers are Given the Seeds to Fight COVID-19 - UAlbany News Center

05-05-2020 Novel Technology for Mapping the Spatial Structure of the Covid-19 Salivary Microbiome.  PI: Alex Valm

05-01-2020 Cluster Investigation of COVID-19.  PI: Andrew Berglund

04-29-2020 RAPID Award for the developmment of a rapid SARS-C0V2 Test.  PI: Ken Halvorsen

04-13-2020 Novel COVID-19 Diagnostic Test.  PI: Scott Tenenbaum

03-15-2020 Wadsworth, Regeneron Leading Battle Against COVID-19 - Times Union

Some members of the RNA Institute (our Wadsworth colleagues) are part of the Department of Health’s team that is providing the essential coronavirus testing for New Yorkers. The Institute leadership has been in communication with these colleagues and have offered support through the use of scientific equipment and reagents for the testing efforts. We have been in contact with our colleagues at Regeneron and are excited to hear that past and current trainees from the Institute are part of the team effort to develop novel tools for combating this virus.