COVID Information Commons: Lightning Talks (October 2021)


Guest Post: Isabella Graham Martinez

A recording of this event is available at the Northeast Big Data Hub’s YouTube channel as well as at covidinfocommons.net. The COVID Information Commons is an NSF-funded project brought to you by the Big Data Innovation Hubs, led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University.


On October 26th, 2021, the Big Data Innovation Hubs presented this month’s COVID Information Commons (CIC) Research Webinar funded by the NSF Convergence Accelerator.  Speakers included NSF and NIH Funded COVID researchers Susan Wesmiller (University of Pittsburgh); Sunny Jiang (University of California-Irvine); Cassian Yee (MD Anderson Cancer Center); and Liz Goldberg (Lifespan, Rhode Island Hospital, Brown University).

Florence Hudson, the Executive Director of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, announced the next phase of growth for the CIC funded by NSF award #2139391 – the CIC Extension for Pandemic Recovery. Expanding on the initial 990 NSF awards in the CIC, the four year $2M award will add new NSF and NIH awards funded by the American Rescue Plan act of 2021. The CIC extension will also add a new metadata and data search and discovery mechanism to crawl more COVID research from around the world, and enhance the clustering mechanism used to search on covidinfocommons.net

The COVID Information Commons was created as an open resource after the Big Data Hubs submitted a proposal to NSF for a RAPID award in 2020. The CIC quickly became a collaborative community for researchers to get feedback as well as support. As a new member of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub, I was struck by the level of engagement between presenters and attendees. Beyond the structured Q&A, presenters engaged with attendees with the chat function during the entirety of the webinar. 

Our first presenter, Susan Wesmiller said of her study “This is definitely a study in progress, and we have so much data that we have to figure out what we’re going to do with it. For those of you in big data, we may need your help”. Other researchers quickly replied in the chat with offers to give their time and sort through the data, underscoring the collaborative nature of the CIC program.

Susan Wesmiller presented a longitudinal study collecting data from women with breast cancer, specifically phenotyping women in the year following surgery. In early 2020, researchers applied for a COVID Supplement in order to determine the effect of COVID-19 on the symptom trajectory experienced by patients in their first two years of survivorship and to identify the women at the highest risk for symptom burden. Researchers added new variables in light of the pandemic, including corona anxiety, resilience, living arrangements, and loss of income. Wesmiller discussed preliminary data, noting, for instance, that 49 out of the 144 women reported loss of income due to COVID. The area deprivation index (ADI) among all women was broadly distributed, though more than 60% are above the moderate deprivation. As the study continues, Wesmiller and her co-investigators will analyze the moderating effects of resilience living arrangements and area deprivation on self-reported symptoms. They will focus on geographical areas to then complete a trajectory analysis and determine the impact of COVID-19 on study participants.

Sunny Jiang presented a mathematical model to understand the risk of COVID-19 transmission through the aerosol generated by toilet flushing. In order to examine this potential risk, researchers identified two scenarios, (a) a healthy suite-mate uses a bathroom a half hour after their sick suite-mate, and (b) neighbors in multi-unit buildings with a faulty seal in the shared drain pipe. Evaluating the exposure risk required thorough understanding of human breathing patterns, the duration in the bathroom, and the COVID positive patient’s phase of contagion. 

Cassian Yee, along with co-researchers from the University of Texas at the MD Anderson Cancer Center, explored another aspect of COVID immunity after repurposing their lab and the supplemental funding provided by the NIH to shift from pancreatic cancer work to COVID-19 work. Yee thanked Dr. Ke Pan and Dr. Yukun especially. Their work focuses on finding T-cell epitopes for SARS-CoV2 in order to understand the natural history of T-cell immunity and the effect of a certain intervention on contagion within a community. Though scientists found immunal dominant responses in healthy individuals who have never been exposed to SARS-CoV2, which was suggestive of cross reactivity, Yee and his team pointed out the flawed methodology in grouping of different peptide epitopes. Acknowledging this as a likely controversial statement, Yee claims that all these studies ignore the distinctions between peptide epitopes. Finally, they sought to show that T-cell receptors can transfer specificity. Yee concluded with praise for Maurice Hilleman, whose rubella and mumps vaccine strategies saved millions of lives, and  Zhang Yongzhen, who turned over the SARS-CoV2 genome into the public domain within 48 hours and enabled the mass production of globally distributed COVID vaccines. 

Liz Goldberg is an emergency medical physician and associate professor of emergency medicine at Brown University whose work centers around meeting the health needs of older adults via telehealth. This research was a supplement to her K76 award, which primarily concerns fall prevention in older individuals, from the National Institute on Aging. Both consumers and physicians had an uptake of telehealth during the early phase of the pandemic in the U.S., with a 154% increase in telehealth visits in March 2020 compared to the year prior. Goldberg aimed to identify telehealth strategies used during the pandemic by conducting semi-structured interviews with 48 geriatricians, primary care, and emergency physicians (in rural and urban settings) who were the first line response to the COVID pandemic. The team was successful in recruiting from both the academic community and physicians that practice in metro, suburban, rural areas, with a median age of 37.5 years. One of the themes that was noted in each of the interviews was a shortage in devices. Not having a device or not having broadband internet access was a major access barrier for older adults, and for rural and under-resourced patients.

At the conclusion of the presentations, the webinar organizers opened up the discussion to include the audience. Interesting questions were raised and external research was often cited or recommended. The CIC project team thanked all audience members and speakers for their insightful comments and the speakers for the opportunity to highlight their work. 


Interested in attending the next CIC Research Webinar: Lightning Talks and Q&A session? Join us on Monday, November 15th for another stimulating discussion with the following speakers! Registration for this event is now open

Michael  Chertkov, University of Arizona: Infer and Control Global Spread of Corona-Virus with Graphical Models. Funded by NSF Division of Computer and Information Science and Engineering / Information and Intelligent Systems (IIS).

Asheley Landrum, Texas Tech University: Influencing Young Adults’ Science Engagement and Learning with COVID-19 Media Coverage. Funded by NSF Division of Education and Human Resources (EHR) / Research on Learning in Formal and Informal Settings (DRL).

Amanda Leggett, University of Michigan: Caregiving on the Frontline: Caring for an Individual Living with Dementia during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Funded by NIH / National Institute on Aging.

Helena Solo Gabriele, University of Miami: Wastewater-Based Monitoring of COVID-19. Funded by NIH / National Institute on Drug Abuse.


How else can you stay in touch with the CIC community and receive updates about future events and opportunities?

Email us at info@covidinfocommons.net and let us know what you’re interested in hearing about next!


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