Answering the World's Urgent Call

DGHI 2019-20 Impact Report Profile: Chris Woods

Published October 13, 2020 under Around DGHI

Chris Woods

This story is part of PIVOT: Adapting to New Challenges in Global Health, DGHI's 2019-20 Impact Report

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When a group of Duke business school students tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020, Chris Woods saw an opportunity.

The students, who were infected on an overseas study program, were among the first people at Duke to contract the novel coronavirus, which was spreading uncontrollably across the globe. Researchers across Duke had shifted their labs to study the virus, but much was still unknown about its effects.

So Woods donned protective equipment and set up a drive-through clinic to collect nasal swabs from the students, most of whom had mild or no symptoms. Those samples – along with data Woods gathered from other early patients – became critical clues in an urgent search for answers.

“We shared special samples, blood cell subsets and serum samples to help other researchers further develop their diagnostic assays, as well as to create vaccines and therapies,” says Woods.

A medical microbiologist who spent his early career with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Woods knows the importance of discovery in an unfolding health crisis. He was on the front lines of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa and has developed diagnostic tools that can spot strains of flu two days before symptoms arise.

With COVID-19, Woods is again searching for early warning, studying the body’s first molecular responses to the virus for a telltale sign of infection. He hopes this research will lead to simpler ways of diagnosing infection in people who have no symptoms – the so-called “silent spreaders” who have made COVID-19 so challenging to contain.

At the same time, Woods is trading data and ideas with a growing network of researchers who have been working around the clock since the virus emerged. This includes efforts to detect new viral threats in nature, to devise more effective control measures, and to develop novel therapies and vaccines.

“Everyone is all on board with trying to pursue knowledge here,” he says.

With COVID-19, Woods is again searching for early warning, studying the body’s first molecular responses to the virus for a telltale sign of infection.

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