Virtual COVID-19 Distinguished Lectureship Series

The Sigma Xi Committee on Lectureships is pleased to host a series of virtual lectures that address different aspects of the COVID-19 pandemic. All lectures and will be held  2:00 p.m.-3:00 p.m. Eastern Time according to the schedule listed below.  All events are free and open to the public. Recordings will be posted shortly after the live session.

Moderator: Dr. Kiki Sanford, neurophysiologist, science communicator, and creator, producer, and host of "TWIS" ("This Week in Science") podcast and radio show

August 28, 2020: Mark Peeples, PhDMark Peeples

Principal investigator and member of the Center for Vaccines and Immunity at The Research Institute at Nationwide Children's Hospital, and a professor of Pediatrics and of Molecular & Cellular Biochemistry at The Ohio State University College of Medicine. Sigma Xi Past President and Fellow. 

Title: What Vaccine Options Are Most Likely to Protect Us Against COVID-19?

SARS-CoV-2 is washing over the world like a tsunami. How do you stop a tsunami? The development of treatments for COVID-19's most consequential symptoms come first, as they are tested in the hospital setting. Antiviral agents and vaccines take more time and are currently under development in many academic and pharmaceutical institutions. Vaccines hold the greatest promise for protecting the population because they are preventive. This discussion will review the different approaches to vaccine development, and their strengths and weaknesses, and the role of the virus target in the process. 

Watch recording of the session

September 11, 2020: Michael T. Osterholm, PhD, MPH mto-stuart_isett

Professor, The University of Minnesota and director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy

Title: The COVID Pandemic: The Evolving Reality

In order to understand COVID-19, Dr. Osterholm will:

Describe the epidemiology of the SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Describe what public health strategies can be used to reduce SARS-CoV-2 transmission
Discuss what the world will likely look like one year from now as a result of the pandemic

Watch recording of the session.

September 25, 2020: David Deamer, PhD Dave Deamer

Research Professor, Biomolecular Engineering
University of California at Santa Cruz

Title: Coronavirus: An Evolutionary Perspective

Where did the novel coronavirus come from? For that matter, where does any virus come from? The easy answer is that no one knows with certainty. However, it is clear that viruses can only reproduce in a living cell, so let's go back in time 4 billion years to the beginning of life on Earth. There are two possibilities: Perhaps there were conditions in which certain nucleic acids could assemble, then begin to grow and replicate by themselves. In that case, viruses came first and only later evolved to become infective agents. The second possibility is that cellular life originated first and incorporated a primitive version of nucleic acids capable of reproducing themselves. At some point certain species of nucleic acids escaped from a dying cell and were taken up by a living cell. Something like this still happens today when plasmids are released by bacteria and deliver genetic information to other bacteria when they incorporate the plasmids. The difference between plasmids and viral nucleic acids is that viral genomes can reproduce and make copies of themselves along with viral proteins, but plasmids cannot. A last point to make is that there are infective agents even simpler than viruses. These are called viroids, and they are little more than a ring of RNA composed of several hundred nucleotides. Viroids infect plant cells, reproduce using polymerase enzymes of the cell and can cause a variety of plant diseases. It has been suggested that viroids are remnants of the process by which cellular life originated. We will explore this possibility as an approach to understanding how viruses could have emerged and then coevolved with cellular forms of life, finally becoming infective agents like the novel coronavirus.

Watch recording of the session.

October 23, 2020: Shweta Bansal, PhD shweta-lab-1388x1923

Associate Professor of Biology, Georgetown University

Title: Integrating Big Data Into Surveillance Models to Inform Decision-Making for COVID-19

The rapid spread of COVID-19 around the United States has created an unprecedented public health emergency. It is now clearly appreciated that smart policy responses to this pandemic require the utilization of reliable, validated transmission models. Models are critical both in terms of forecasting the spatio-temporal spread of the virus, but also in permitting a rational comparison of alternative non-pharmaceutical intervention strategies. To fill this urgent surveillance gap and inform policy decisions, we model the spatio-temporal dynamics of COVID-19 in the US from novel streams of near real-time healthcare data combined with data on socio-economics, behavioral processes, health disparities and policy response. Our combination of dynamical inferrential modelling together with unique high-resolution data allows for a careful characterization of the burden of COVID-19 beyond tested cases, discriminate among alternative mitigation policies, and quantify the geographic variation in disease burden.

Watch recording of the session.

October 30, 2020: Jessie Abbate, PhD Jessie Abata

Infectious Disease Ecologist & Epidemiology Consultant, World Health Organization (Africa Region) via The GRAPH Network; Geospatial Epidemiologist & Data Scientist, Geomatys; Adjunct Researcher, Laboratoire TransVIHMI (IRD & INSERM)

Title: COVID-19 in the African Continent: Biases and Obstacles to Tracking a Pandemic  

When COVID-19 hit, and it was apparent that specialized medical care was needed to keep many patients from dying, there was a sense of dread for what the pandemic would mean for populations without the means and infrastructure to provide that care. While the situation has been dire in many Central and South American countries, and is fast approaching critical in South Asia, the majority of African countries have remained largely, and mysteriously, un-scathed. Many reasons for this have been proposed: from younger demographics and fewer international exposures, to a simple lack of data and testing. Dr. Abbate will go through the bases for some of these theories, the biases that may influence them, and the challenges of comparing data across countries during a crisis. She will then share a set of initiatives to build collaborative solutions with partners both in-country and abroad to fill in those gaps and improve disease prevention and response decisions worldwide.  

Watch recording of the session.

November 20, 2020: Peter Hotez, MD, PhD, FASTMH, FAAP


Dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine and Professor of Pediatrics and Molecular Virology & Microbiology, Baylor College of Medicine 

Director, Texas Children’s Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) and Texas Children’s Hospital Endowed Chair of Tropical Pediatrics

University Professor, Baylor University

Fellow in Disease and Poverty, James A Baker III Institute for Public Policy.

Title: Preventing the Next Pandemic: Vaccine Diplomacy in a Time of Anti-Science

A look at modern 21st-century forces - war, political collapse, climate change, urbanization, anti-science, leading to a return of neglected and vaccine-preventable diseases. The lecture will address Dr. Hotez's time as US Science Envoy in the White House and US State Department

    1. To report on the impact of modern 21st-century forces, including poverty, war, urbanization, climate           change, on slowing, halting, or even reversing public health gains.
    2. To evaluate the impact of vaccines on combating the diseases arising due to these forces.
    3. To summarize the development of new COVID19 vaccines for global Health

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