Dissecting a Pandemic: Walsh Furthers COVID-19 Research

Dissecting a Pandemic: Walsh Furthers COVID-19 Research

In March 2020, while the world shuttered its doors to control a pandemic, the international scientific community threw open theirs to create global collaborations unlike any in recorded history. With a laser-focused urgency, researchers united to focus on one single topic, COVID-19. Walsh University was one of them. 

Through an ongoing collaboration with the Michigan State University Grand Rapids Research Center, Walsh’s team of faculty and undergraduate students were able to help analyze hundreds of viral genome sequences. The team produced new information that was combined into an openly accessible database for use by both the scientific community and the public to research and learn more about SARS CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19.

Walsh Undergrad Students Join National SARS-CoV2 Research Team

Bioinformatics is a scientific field that combines biology and chemistry with math and computer science. By using bioinformatics, scientists can store, retrieve, analyze and interpret data from biological research within a computerized system. Medical professionals and biological scientists use bioinformatics to transform massive amounts of raw data into an insightful understanding of the functions of genes, proteins and cells. These insights lead to new developments in the diagnosis and treatment of disease, pharmaceutical breakthroughs and improved quality of life. 

Given the undergraduate research training in bioinformatics and genomics, Walsh students were poised to quickly contribute to the large multi-institutional research endeavor.

Walsh’s Professor of Biology Tom Freeland, Ph.D., and seniors Olivia Sirpilla ’20, Xavier Soehnlen ’20 and Michelle Cugino ’20 helped to lead the Walsh team of researchers in their modeling contributions to the Viral Integrated Structural Evolution Dynamic Database. Their work resulted in published research papers in two separate national publications, the Journal of Biochemistry and Journal of Proteome Research.

The database compiled contributions from multiple universities and healthcare centers from around the country and included the work of individuals from a wide range of expertise in different fields. Through Walsh’s Bioinformatics program, faculty and students were able to seamlessly shift from the lab to working at home while still making a meaningful contribution.

Walsh’s state-of-the-art Bioinformatics laboratory opened for hands-on learning experiences in 2004, and to date, the University remains one of the select few colleges in Ohio to offer a Bioinformatics degree. Walsh’s program consistently produces students who are in high demand in the field of exploratory molecular science.

“Looking back, It is almost ridiculous to think how much information this team of researchers assembled in such a short amount of time, especially given the computing power necessary to complete it,” said Dr. Underwood. “For those of us in academic research, our focus went beyond research experience for our students or professional recognition for published research. Every institution and researcher involved were unified on one goal: to help end a global pandemic.”