UC Davis Symposium: Do You Have Questions on COVID-19 Tests and Vaccines?

(Note:  UC Davis Distinguished Professor Walter Leal focuses his research on the biochemical and molecular basis of insect olfaction, or how insects perceive the world through the sense of smell. However, he is also heavily involved in public service.)

Do you have questions to ask at the UC Davis Symposium on COVID-19?  Questions about COVID tests or vaccines?

The virtual symposium, organized and moderated by UC Davis Distinguished Professor Walter Leal, is set for 5 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 13 on Zoom. Register here: https://bit.ly/2Li9pnV.

UC Davis Chancellor Gary May will deliver the opening remarks. UC Davis scientists Richard Michelmore, Nam Tran and Heather Bischel will explain the COVID tests underway at UC Davis and the Davis community and answer questions. A new addition to the panel is UC Davis Health physician Stuart Cohen, chief of the Division of infectious diseases and director, Hospital Epidemiology and  Infection Control, "who is running vaccine trials will answer your questions about vaccines," Leal said.

"Given the overwhelming interest in the coronavirus vaccine, we have amended the COVID Symposium's program to include Dr. Cohen," Leal said. "He is leading a Phase 3 clinical trial of the Novavax vaccine called NVX-CoV2373. This vaccine has a subunit from the spike protein in SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and it's combined with an adjuvant, a boosting agent to improve the body's immune response to the vaccine." 

The public is invited to submit advance questions and also may ask questions during the symposium via the Zoom chat. It will be recorded for later viewing.

“This symposium will yield important information that everyone should know,” said Leal, a chemical ecologist with the Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology and a former chair of the Department of Entomology, now the Department of Entomology and Nematology. 

Free COVID-19 saliva tests are being administered by appointment to the Davis community--those who live in Davis or work at UC Davis--at testing kiosks on campus. It is a rapid, comprehensive laboratory-developed test that detects whether a person is currently infected with the coronavirus. The UC Davis Genome Center processes the saliva samples. Technically, the test uses a high throughput, real time, quantitative polymerase chain reaction protocol run on machines repurposed from the agricultural genetics industry

The symposium also will cover how the COVID-19 tests administered in an hospital emergency room or at bedside can distinguish between whether a patient has COVID-19 or the flu. In addition, wastewater surveillance tests, also known as sewage tests, are underway to detect the virus. 

Viewers also will learn about “Healthy Davis Together,” a program partnering UC Davis with the City of Davis to prevent the spread of the virus and “to facilitate a coordinated and gradual return to regular city activities and reintegration of UC Davis students back into the Davis community.”

Short Bios

Chancellor Gary May, Ph.D. 
He became the seventh UC Davis chancellor on Aug. 1, 2017. A native of St. Louis, Mo., he received his bachelor's degree in electrical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1985 and his master's degree and doctorate in electrical engineering and computer science from UC Berkeley in 1987 and 1991, respectively. Prior to becoming the UC Davis chancellor, he served as the dean of the Georgia Tech College of Engineering from July 2011-June 2017 and as the Steve W. Chaddick School Chair of the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering from May 2005-June 2011. His resume also includes executive assistant to Georgia Tech President G. Wayne Clough from 2002-2005. 

Heather Bischel, Ph.D.
Heather N. Bischel, who joined the UC Davis faculty in 2017, is an assistant professor in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. She focuses her research on protecting and improving human and environmental health through more sustainable water and sanitation practices, with emphases on waterborne viruses, water quality and reuse, organic micropollutants, and resource-oriented sanitation.To build a local early warning system for COVID outbreaks, she worked with Karen Shapiro (VetMed) and campus Safety Services & Facilities to launch wastewater monitoring for SARS-CoV-2 at UC Davis. Through the Healthy Davis Together Initiative, she co-leads the Environmental Monitoring program with David Coil (UC Davis Genome Center) to monitor SARS-CoV-2 in wastewater, surface samples, and HVAC systems throughout the City of Davis.

Bischel holds degrees in civil and environmental engineering. She received a bachelor's degree from UC Berkeley in 2005, a master of science degree from Stanford University in 2007, and a doctorate from Stanford University in 2011. She served as a postdoctoral scientist at the National Science Foundation Engineering Research Center for Reinventing the Nation's Urban Water Infrastructure (2011-2012) and the Laboratory of Environmental Chemistry at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (2012-2017).

Richard Michelmore, Ph.D. 
Michelmore,  a UC Davis distinguished professor in the Departments of Plant Sciences (College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences), Molecular and Cellular Biology (College of Biological Sciences) and Medical Microbiology and Immunology (School of Medicine), is the founding director of the UC Davis Genome Center, established in 2003.  Educated in natural sciences at Cambridge, Michelmore joined the UC Davis faculty in 1982 and has authored more than 200 scientific papers.  His multidisciplinary research utilizes molecular, genetic, and evolutionary approaches to plant genomics. He aims "to exploit such approaches for information-driven deployment of resistance genes in crop plants to provide more durable disease resistance." In addition, he is interested in fostering research to enhance global food security. His interests also include applications of DNA sequencing to all areas of biology and its increasing impact on society. In response to the current pandemic, he has been a major contributor to the team providing rapid testing for COVID-19.

Nam Tran, Ph.D. 
Nam Tran serves as associate clinical professor and director of clinical chemistry, special chemistry, toxicology, Point of Care (POC) Testing, and the Specimen and Reporting Center (SARC). He is board-certified in clinical chemistry (high complexity laboratory director certification) through the American Board ofBioanalysis (ABB). He also serves as the instructor of record for the resident physician and medical student clinical chemistry rotations. He received his bachelor's degree in biochemistry and molecular biology in 2003 from UC Davis, and his doctorate in comparative pathology from UC Davis in 2008.  He served as a postdoctoral scholar at the National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB), UC DavisPOC Technologies Center, from 2009-2011. During this time, Tram also completed a master's degree in pharmacology and toxicology. He served as a National Institutes of Health Mentored Clinical Research Training Program (MCRTP) Scholar from 2011-2013.

Stuart Cohen, M.D. 
Dr. Cohen specializes in clinical infectious diseases and infection control in the hospital environment. He is interested in AIDS, HIV infection and treatment of immuno-compromised patients and serves as primary infectious diseases consultant to transplant programs. Cohen uses molecular biology to investigate epidemiology of resistant microorganisms. His laboratory-based studies look at susceptibility testing of HIV clinical isolates to multiple antiretroviral agents. Additional research focuses on new antimicrobial agents and chemokine and cytokine level changes.

He received his bachelor of science degree from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, in 1974 and his medical degree from Chicago Medical School in 1978.  He completed his residency in internal medicine at the University of New Mexico from 1978-81 and a fellowship in infectious diseases at the UC Davis Medical Center, 1981-1983. He is board-certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine and the American Board of Internal Medicine, Infectious Disease. (See his recent interview with UC Davis Health.)

This is the fourth in a series of COVID-19 symposiums that Leal has organized and moderated since April. A query from one of Leal's students prompted the Jan. 13 symposium.