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UMMS researcher Evan Bradley studying link between nasopharyngeal microbiome and COVID-19

By Susan E.W. Spencer

UMass Medical School Communications

July 21, 2020
Evan Bradley, MD

A UMass Medical School researcher has been awarded a grant to study the association between the nasopharyngeal microbiome—the bacterial community that colonizes the back of the nose and throat—and clinical outcomes of patients with COVID-19.

The one-year, $24,793 COVID-19 research grant was awarded to Evan Bradley, MD, PhD, assistant professor of emergency medicine, by the Society for Academic Emergency Medicine Foundation.

The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the need to learn more about the coronavirus’s first major contact environment in the body, the nasopharynx.

Microbiome research is a relatively new field, Dr. Bradley explained, particularly in the nasopharynx. Previously, animal studies and early human reports have found connections between the composition of the nasopharyngeal microbiome and the host response to influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, including severe disease manifestations.

Bradley said, “The composition of the nasopharyngeal microbiome may have important effects on SARS-CoV-2 virus’s ability to establish a productive infection and host’s response to the virus.”

Bradley aims to identify nasopharyngeal microbiome factors that are associated with COVID-19 in emergency department patients with confirmed clinical testing. Those analyses will be compared with nasopharyngeal swab specimens from emergency department patients under investigation for COVID-19 who test negative.

A second aim of the study is to identify nasopharyngeal microbiome features associated with clinical outcomes among patients with COVID-19. Bradley said the interaction between the virus and the microbiome could have important downstream effects such as progression to severe lower respiratory tract infection or inflammatory response leading to organ dysfunction. He hopes to determine if there are nasopharyngeal microbiome signatures associated with these disease features, which could help predict the need for respiratory support or other intervention.

“It’s very exploratory research,” Bradley said. “We really don’t know what we’re going to find.”