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VCR and Governor’s Chair Join Other Experimental Biology and Medicine Leaders to Make the Case for Precision Epidemiology in COVID-19 Commentary


Two leaders from the University of Tennessee Health Science Center are among the seven notable global authors of an important commentary on COVID-19 that calls for the global initiation of Precision Epidemiology to fight the pandemic. The article, “COVID-19: Time for precision epidemiology,” was recently published in Experimental Biology and Medicine (EBM). Two of the authors were Steven Goodman, PhD, UTHSC  Vice Chancellor for Research, who is also the journal’s Editor-in-Chief; and Robert W. Williams, PhD, chair of the UTHSC Department of Genetics, Genomics and Informatics, and an Associate Editor of the journal.

Dr. Steve Goodman

The article argues for data-driven action to improve the effectiveness and efficiency of interventions at all phases of the COVID-19 pandemic. It urges governments and research communities to initiate immediate large-scale global molecular testing for the SARS-CoV-2 infection, arguing that using only the clinical symptoms to detect infected persons is too slow and lacks the ability to understand the spead of the virus.

The authors call for “the initiation of precision epidemiology that is a modernized workflow taking into account the viral genome, the host genome and response, exposure history, and the disease trajectory” to help overcome the ongoing pandemic and protect communities from future potential outbreaks.

Dr. Goodman said, “As the Editor-in-Chief of the global journal EBM, our Global Editors (Drs. Awandare, Conran, Farzaneh, and Tsai), Associate Editors of the Genomics, Proteomics, and Bioinformatics Category (Drs. Koks and Williams), an Editorial Board Member of that category (Dr. Quinn), and I felt compelled to comment on what was in our minds a slow and inadequate response to the rapidly growing global COVID-19 pandemic. We argued that in addition to social distancing there was a great need for comprehensive testing, not only of hospitalized COVID-19 patients, but also a large sampling of the general population leading to precision epidemiology to stop the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus.”

Dr. Rob Williams

Dr. Williams, who is also the UT-Oak Ridge National Laboratory Governor’s Chair in Computational Genomics, said, “Without more comprehensive but voluntary testing of diverse groups, scientists, public health, and government officials are all flying blind. The very patchy data we now have accounts for striking differences and arguments on physical distancing, risk of infection, likelihood of secondary waves of COVID-19, and difficulties in balancing health impact and economic impact.” Dr. Williams added, “For those with an interest in Memphis history, the mosquitoe-borne Yellow Fever epidemics of 1873, 1878, and 1879 repeatedly brought Memphis to its knees with more than 7,000 deaths and an exodus of 25,000 citizens—half of the total city population. But it also led to much better city sanitation and to the creation of numerous hospitals and medical schools in Memphis. So in some ways, UTHSC is here in Memphis largely as a result of a series of pandemics 145 years ago.”

The article is available online at https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.1177/1535370220919349. The other authors are: Sulev Koks, MD, PhD, Senior Research Fellow at The Perron Institute for Neurological and Translational Science at Murdoch University (Australia); John Quinn, PhD, Professor of Molecular and Clinical Pharmacology, University of Liverpool (United Kingdom); Farzin Farzaneh, PhD, Professor of Molecular Medicine, King’s College London (United Kingdom); Nicola Conran, Senior Research Scientist, Hematology Center, University of Campinas (Brazil); Shaw-Jeng Tsai, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Department of Physiology, National Cheng-Kung University Medical College, Tainan (Taiwan); and Gordon Awandare, PhD, Director of the West African Center for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens, University of Ghana (Ghana).

Experimental Biology and Medicine is a global journal dedicated to the publication of multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary research in the biomedical sciences.  The journal was established in 1903.  Experimental Biology and Medicine is the journal of the Society of Experimental Biology and Medicine, which share a common vision to advance biomedical research that is linked closely to the practice of medicine, and to mentor the next generation of researchers.