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UCI Receives $2.5 Million to Support COVID-19 Patient Care, Research

Friday, May 15, 2020

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A $2.5 million gift from the John and Mary Tu Foundation to the University of California, Irvine is supporting COVID-19-associated patient care at UCI Health and advance clinical and translational research across campus focused on new ways to test for and treat the viral infection.

As the region’s only combined academic health system and public research university, UCI is at the forefront in galvanizing an active response to the pandemic. UCI Health – the university’s clinical enterprise – and the Susan and Henry Samueli College of Health Sciences have infectious disease experts, public health researchers and world-class clinicians dedicated to mitigating the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“During this challenging time, John and Mary Tu’s gift is having a considerable impact on UCI’s COVID-19-related patient care and research, and we are deeply grateful for their critical support,” said Chancellor Howard Gillman.

“John Tu was inspired about the opportunity to assist UCI Health with our mobilization efforts to serve patients and accelerate research. In fact, John Tu was among the first to come forward and ask how he could help, and he hopes his gift will inspire others to donate to UCI Health as well,” said Dr. Steve Goldstein, vice chancellor for health affairs. “This gift is helping to save lives, accelerate testing and advance vaccine development.”

Last year, UCI launched its Brilliant Future philanthropic campaign, which encourages the community to support campus efforts to transform healthcare and wellness, among other priorities. Gifts such as this one from the Tu Foundation will redefine how medical breakthroughs occur; how personalized, compassionate healthcare is taught; and how patients are treated in this pandemic and well into the future.

Reinforcing patient care

Half of the Tu gift, $1.25 million, is allowing physicians, nurses and other caregivers at UCI Health’s flagship facility, UCI Medical Center, to continue providing the most cutting-edge care available for patients while implementing new clinical responses and launching community initiatives.

“John and Mary Tu’s gracious support allows us to better focus the leading care we’re known for on the most immediate health crisis of our times,” said Chad T. Lefteris, CEO of UCI Health. “As Orange County’s top complex care provider, UCI Health is well-positioned to grapple with the challenges that COVID-19 poses to our county, state, nation and global community. The Tus’ gift is already having a positive impact on the health of our community.”

UCI Health front-line providers are currently treating patients with COVID-19 and preparing to expand testing services to assess more Orange County residents. Funding for patient care will enable UCI Health to address any potential surge in patients.

Most immediately, a portion of the Tu Foundation gift is enabling UCI Medical Center intensive care units to expand their personnel and secure needed equipment in order to serve those patients most seriously afflicted with COVID-19.

The gift is also supporting:

  • Drive-up testing sites in Orange and Irvine;
  • UCI Health’s ability to handle any inpatient surges with tents and other spaces that have been converted to treat and house COVID-19 patients;
  • The purchase of much-needed medical supplies, including personal protective equipment;
  • The acquisition of additional lab equipment to process more COVID-19 tests internally with a quicker turnaround time;
  • The expansion of telehealth and telemedicine services and equipment; and
  • The addition of call-center staff and other personnel to direct patients as they seek information about and care for COVID-19-related issues.

Underwriting world-class research

The other $1.25 million of the Tu Foundation gift is helping to advance research that provides both immediate impact and long-term solutions to pandemic diseases that are increasing in frequency (such as MRSA, Ebola, SARS, MERS, Zika and now COVID-19).

“Campus investigators with world-class expertise – ranging from engineering to vaccine development and molecular mechanisms of viral infection and detection – along with clinician scientists on the front lines have pivoted rapidly to form interdisciplinary teams on an unprecedented scale,” said Dr. Michael J. Stamos, dean of UCI’s School of Medicine. “The Tus’ generous support will drive innovation, invention, and the development of vaccines and treatments that will save lives.”

Currently, UCI faculty members are working to translate scientific discoveries into novel therapies, improved tests and a potential vaccine at breakneck speed.

The UCI Office of Research has issued a call for proposals to back their new COVID-19 and other infectious diseases research. Including half of the Tu Foundation gift, nearly $2.5 million in research support is available. Already, nearly 60 proposals have been submitted, and 16 have been approved for grants through what is now called the UCI Joint Research Fund.

One project, led by Dr. Daniel S. Chow, assistant professor of radiological sciences, is to develop a COVID-19 vulnerability scoring system that will be deployed to enable clinicians to identify and aggressively treat those patients at highest risk for complications due to a COVID-19 infection.

Another project to receive funding – spearheaded by Dr. Saahir Kahn, an assistant professor of infectious diseases in the Department of Medicine – is focused on assessing the true prevalence of COVID-19 infections in the U.S., using a microarray that can measure antibodies against a panel of antigens from COVID-19 and other common human coronaviruses.

To review and evaluate proposals, UCI created the Clinical Research Acceleration and Facilitation Team-COVID Committee. Made up of 19 senior investigators, the panel aims to underwrite projects that will help slow and stop the pandemic, as well as position UCI to apply for the emergency funding available from federal agencies for longer-term efforts against coronaviruses and other emerging diseases.

UC Irvine is a gold-level Leaders Circle sponsor of the Greater Irvine Chamber.

For information on how to become a part of this elite Leaders Circle group, contact Jessica Welch.

Photo: Carlos Puma for UCI Health

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