Using biomedical engineering to track the transfer of COVID-19

University of Utah’s biomedical engineering assistant professor Jessica Kramer is now researching how mucus aid the transfer of COVID-19 from person to person.

Researchers don’t know the exact role different compositions of mucus play in the transmission of COVID-19.

“Not everyone spreads the disease equally. The quality of their mucus may be part of the explanation,” Kramer says. “One person may sneeze and transmit it to another person, and another may not, and that is not well understood.”

Kramer has received a one-year, $200,000 Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation for the research. This funding will help scientist understand why some people spread the disease more than others, which could potentially lead to more effective quarantine measures for high-risk populations.

Kramer and her team are set to create different forms of synthetic mucins, the proteins that make up mucus, and test them with non-hazardous versions of coronaviruses.

How do researcher track the spread of a disease?

Kramer will use aerosols to simulate coughing to help determine how different mucins carry the virus through air.

In addition to studying how coronavirus travels through air, Kramer will also test the viability of the virus when it lands on a surface based on the mucins that carry it. Her lab will also examine how mucin composition on the next victim’s mouth, eyes or lungs affects whether the virus makes it through the mucus into their cells to replicate.

“It’s important that people understand that it’s not only the amount of mucus that is a factor but how the molecular composition is different,” she says.

Kramer’s lab, based at the University of Utah, has been creating synthetic mucins and more recently studying how mucins and bacteria interact with each other. Kramer says researching how mucins interact with viruses is a natural extension of this work.

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