The University of Miami Health System is providing care to South Florida residents with COVID-19, while clinicians and research scientists are developing accurate and rapid tests, seeking effective treatments, informing the public about risks and prevention, and working toward a vaccine.
Mental, Emotional, Psychosocial Health
Studying the Effects of Physical Distancing on Loneliness and Mental Health
Existing research has shown that loneliness is growing as an ominous public health concern and can be deadly. Researchers at UM have received a rapid-response grant from the university to gain an understanding of the psychosocial impacts of COVID-19 on adults age 18 to 35. The study includes measures of loneliness, anxiety, depression, social connectedness, and substance use behaviors. The researchers aim to determine how behaviors and mental health have changed since COVID-19 recommendations/restrictions have been implemented.
Learn more (published May 15, 2020)
Communicating with Hearing-Impaired People during COVID-19 Precautions
Wearing masks and physical distancing can cause unique challenges for people with hearing loss who rely on lip reading, facial expressions, and unobstructed vocal sounds to understand others. Audiology and public health experts at the Miller School of Medicine and the Hispanic Hearing Healthcare Access Coalition strongly recommend that communities take special measures to continue staying connected with people who are deaf and hearing impaired. Here’s what you can do to improve your communications with those who are hard of hearing.
Learn more (published May 12, 2020)
Studying the Psychosocial Impact on Latino Queer Men
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, UM health experts, public health scientists, and mental health professionals were studying how Latino men who have sex with men engage in services for HIV-prevention, mental health, and substance use. Since the pandemic developed, the researchers developed the Pandemic Stress Index tool to better understand COVID-19’s impact on this population. Early findings reveal that the lives of Latino queer men have been substantially affected by recent increases in psychosocial difficulties including depression, anxiety, loneliness, substance use, and lack of social support.
Learn more (published May 7, 2020)
Irritable Bowel Disease Does Not Increase COVID-19 Infection Risk
“When the COVID-19 epidemic began, there was a lot of concern among patients and their treating physicians about whether patients who had irritable bowel disease (IBD) would be particularly susceptible to COVID-19, either as a result of having intestinal inflammation or as a result of the medications that they were taking,” said UHealth gastroenterologist Dr. Maria Abreu. After completing studies of UHealth patients, the doctor and colleagues confirmed that intestinal inflammation and the medications used to treat these GI conditions are not associated with a greater likelihood of coronavirus infection.
Learn more (published May 14, 2020)
Addressing the Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Patients
HIV patients live with a chronic, potentially deadly disease, and COVID-19 has only made their lives more difficult. In addition to adding a health threat, the coronavirus has isolated people and stripped them of their livelihoods, with potentially tragic consequences. To understand these new dynamics, researchers at the Miller School of Medicine are studying the physical and mental health impacts the coronavirus is having on this vulnerable population and the best ways to help them. Miami-Dade County is home to more than 26,000 people living with HIV, and the region has the highest rate of new cases in the U.S.
Learn more (published June 4, 2020)
Continuing Cancer Patient Care During a Pandemic
Because cancer doesn't stop during a pandemic, patients continue to receive experimental clinical trial treatments and life-saving research therapies at Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. To prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, patients are advised to use telehealth services for routine and follow-up appointments. Services like psychosocial support and dietary counseling are delivered online. Oral medications are now shipped to patients’ homes. And patients have virtual access to resources like music and art therapy, yoga and other mindfulness activities, and exercise instruction.
Learn more (published May 12, 2020)
Seeking Research on High-Risk Populations and Physical Distancing Behaviors
A public health scientist at the Miller School of Medicine is calling on the medical research community to learn more about the physical distancing behaviors of populations most at risk for contracting and spreading COVID-19 infection. This data will be especially important as stay-home orders are lifted and these communities resume physical contact with more people. Experts are particularly concerned about adults with immune disorders, sexually transmitted diseases, psychiatric disorders, and drug/alcohol addictions. These risks emphasize the urgent need for further research to halt the COVID-19 spread and to further protect at-risk populations.
Learn more (published April 30, 2020)
The Benefits of eHealth Services for Cancer Patients
While stay-home orders are in place, some cancer patients (and others receiving ongoing medical treatment) aren’t visiting their doctors’ offices. In response, Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center and UHealth are continuing to provide patient-centered support services thought eHealth and telehealth delivery. Sylvester is currently offering programs on yoga, exercise, meditation, music, eBeauty, art therapy, and other health and wellness topics via a video-conferencing application. The remote health trend is expanding and advancing as the COVID-19 pandemic changes the landscape of clinical care.
Learn more (published April 30, 2020)
Debunking Dangerous Rumors
Some inaccurate medical information about COVID-19 has flooded social media and other channels. One example is the rumor that patients taking renin-angiotensin system blockers may be more susceptible to the virus. This may prompt some patients to stop taking their medication, which can be dangerous for those with hypertension, congestive heart failure, or chronic kidney disease. An expert at the UM Miller School of Medicine is warning heart and kidney patients to continue taking their medications as prescribed.
Learn more (published March 25, 2020)
Advances in Testing
Miller School Developing Patient-Friendly Rapid Test for COVID-19
To help identify the spread of COVID-19 in communities worldwide, biomedical researchers at the Miller School of Medicine are developing a more patient-friendly test. Designed to diagnose the coronavirus in less than 30 minutes, the patented test is currently under review by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The rapid test uses a simple throat swab to deliver on-the-spot results on a paper strip and is designed for cost-effective mass production and use around the world. The research needed to develop this fast and accurate COVID-19 test is supported by a generous donation from the Dr. John T. Macdonald Foundation.
Learn more (published May 14, 2020)
Mobile Clinic Brings Testing to South Dade Government Center
A UHealth Pediatric Mobile Clinic with advanced telehealth features is now offering COVID-19 testing for adults at the South Dade Government Center in Cutler Bay. Individuals with coronavirus symptoms, such as high fever and breathing difficulties, can make an appointment for testing by calling 311 or 305-499-8767.
Learn more (published April 9, 2020)
Identifying Infection Rates in Miami
Researchers from the Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center, part of the University of Miami Health System, are leading the effort to accurately quantify the extent of COVID-19 infection in Miami-Dade County. Randomly selected residents will be asked if they want to be tested using a new finger-prick blood test to detect both past and active infections, with results in 24 hours. Sylvester researchers estimate that the number of local cases of infection are significantly underreported due to limited access to testing, asymptomatic infected people, the homeless population, and those with milder courses of the disease who aren’t being tested and reported.
Learn more (published April 3, 2020)
Developing Rapid Tests
Biomedical researchers at the UM Miller School of Medicine are developing a COVID-19 diagnostic test (in collaboration with biopharmaceutical company Heat Biologics, Inc.). The new, patient-friendly test will use a simple throat swab to deliver on-the-spot results on a paper strip in under 30 minutes.
Learn more (published March 23, 2020)
Advances in Treatment
How COVID-19 Affects the Heart Following Recovery
If you tested positive for COVID-19, you may wonder if your heart was damaged by the virus. Those with chronic health issues like hypertension, diabetes, and cancer may be at particularly high risk for heart damage following infection with the virus. A new COVID-19 Heart Program developed by cardiologists at the Miller School of Medicine is addressing these concerns with comprehensive screenings and evaluations that examine how the coronavirus can affect the heart and surrounding tissues. During the pandemic, UHealth continues to treat other heart-related conditions and provide emergency care to those experiencing chest pain or heart palpitations.
Learn more (published May 22, 2020)
Can Anti-Inflammatory Drug Aviptadil Treat Respiratory Distress?
Infectious disease experts with UHealth and the Miller School of Medicine began a clinical trial using Aviptadil to treat COVID-19 patients with Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Deaths due to the virus are primarily the result of ARDS, which is severe inflammation that causes the lungs to fill with fluid, and even mechanical ventilation is unable to maintain life. This syndrome is caused by a cytokine storm unleashed by viral particles. Studies have shown that the drug Aviptadil has potent anti-cytokine effects. UM’s clinical trial will study COVID-19 patients who are already on mechanical ventilation. The hope is that Aviptadil can improve the ability of patients’ lung to transfer oxygen to the body—and ultimately save lives.
Learn more (published May 13, 2020)
Rapid Therapy for Heart Attacks May Offer Advantages
When a patient enters an emergency room with intense chest pains, every minute of response time counts. During the novel coronavirus pandemic, hospital intake procedures can take longer. Patients need to be screened for COVID-19 infection, and nurses and doctors must take advanced safety precautions. This delay in treatment can allow the heart muscles to further deteriorate in cases of heart attack. Cardiologists at UHealth are suggesting that fibrinolytic therapy—injecting clot-busting drugs—could be a sensible alternative to more time-consuming catheterization procedures that also put healthcare workers at higher risk for COVID-19 infection.
Learn more (published April 29, 2020)
Cautious Optimism as Stem Cells Treatments Show Promise
On April 5, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of mesenchymal stem cells (MSCs) taken from bone marrow to treat COVID-19 patients with severe respiratory distress. Six COVID-19 patients with serious breathing difficulties have shown improvement after receiving MSC infusions along with other treatments. The sixth patient, who was on life support (ECMO), was recently injected at Jackson Memorial Hospital. UM doctors are cautiously optimistic that this treatment will save lives.
Learn more (published April 23, 2020)
UHealth to Offer Convalescent Plasma for Seriously Ill Patients
A new initiative at UHealth offers convalescent plasma with COVID-19 antibodies as a treatment for patients who are seriously ill from the coronavirus infection or at serious risk of progression. Our clinicians will have access to plasma donated by individuals who have recovered from a COVID-19 infection. Their blood contains antibodies that may decrease the viral load in patients and strengthen patients’ ability to fight this infection. This approach has been effective with influenza and other viral infections, including prior coronaviruses.
Can Stem Cell Injections Treat Severe Cases of COVID-19?
An international team of scientists led by a doctor at the Miller School of Medicine has been granted immediate FDA authorization to test the safety and efficacy of using stem cell injections to block COVID-19’s life-threatening lung inflammation in severe cases. The clinical trial will be based at the UHealth and Jackson Health System. It is the result of a collaborative academic initiative sponsored by The Cure Alliance, a non-profit group dedicated to accelerating cures for all diseases.
Learn more (published April 15, 2020)
Keeping Our Community Healthy, Tested, and Informed
To help the University of Miami community address the health crisis related to the novel coronavirus, the Miller School of Medicine has launched a multidisciplinary initiative called U-TRACE (UM Tracking, Resources, and Assessment of COVID-19 Epidemiology). The goal is to identify and manage new COVID-19 cases, protect UHealth’s clinicians on the front lines, and provide appropriate support and care to our students, faculty, and staff members. The U-TRACE team helps identify COVID-19 patients’ recent contacts and provides patient and public health education on this topic. UM employees can also use the drive-up COVID testing site near the Diabetes Research Institute on NW 14th Street.
Learn more (published April 13, 2020)
Enzyme Might Reduce the Body's Inflammatory Response
A Miller School of Medicine endocrinologist is suggesting that DPP4 inhibitors could help treat patients with COVID-19. DDP4 is an enzyme associated with inflammatory responses and insulin regulation. If DPP4 activity is blocked, it could reduce the body’s immune response to the virus. The University of Miami doctor is promoting clinical trials and further research on this possibility, starting with type 2 diabetes patients with a mild to moderate course of COVID-19.
Learn more (published April 10, 2020)
How Does COVID-19 Infection Affect Male Sex Organs?
Studies show that up to 20% of men with asymptomatic COVID-19 infection develop an inflammatory infection called orchitis in one or both testes. To determine the interaction of the virus with semen, the University of Miami is leading a unique study of men who tested positive for COVID-19. There are 35 men currently enrolled, and the researchers seek to enroll a total of 200 men who tested positive. The researchers want to identify how long the virus lasts in semen and investigate whether COVID-19 infection leads to orchitis and male infertility. They hypothesize that the novel coronavirus, if present in the semen, may possibly be transmitted to others through sexual activity. Men who have tested positive for the virus and are interested in participating in this crucial research can email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 305-243-6630 for more information.
Learn more (published May 27, 2020)
Striving to Avoid Another Infectious Disease Pandemic
A public health expert at the Miller School of Medicine was awarded a grant to help develop a project to promote global health protection against the spread of infectious diseases. The research will analyze how countries around the world collaborate and share information and resources when facing an infectious disease outbreak like COVID-19. The aim is to establish guidelines that can standardize and unite the response by various health organizations, governmental agencies, and research leaders. The ultimate goal is to identify, promote, and support best practices to save lives around the world.
Learn more (published April 17, 2020)
Working Toward a Vaccine
Immunology researchers at the UM Miller School of Medicine are collaborating with Heat Biologics, Inc. to develop a vaccine for COVID-19. The approach is designed to reprogram live cells to continually secrete antigens that activate a robust, long-term immune system response that could protect against coronavirus strains and potential future mutations.
Learn more (published March 18, 2020)
Compiled by Dana Kantrowitz, contributing writer for UMiami Health News.