The National Institutes of Health (NIH) awarded three Frederick National Laboratory teams with NIH Director’s Awards for innovative approaches to COVID-19-related research that advances knowledge and enhances health.  

“It is a tremendous honor for three Frederick National Laboratory teams to be nominated by three distinct entities within NIH. I am grateful to the NIH for presenting our teams with this well-deserved recognition, said Ethan Dmitrovsky, M.D., director of the Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research and president of Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc.

These Frederick National Laboratory teams received NIH Director’s Awards, which recognize major achievements of all Institutes and Centers:

COVID-19 SeroSurvey Team 

Scientist at work station
Kelly Snead working on the trans-NIH SeroSurvey project.
Scientist holds pipette at workbench
Jen Mehalko working on the trans-NIH SeroSurvey project.

The trans-NIH SeroSurvey project was designed to investigate how many people across the country possibly had asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infections during the early stages of the pandemic. The goal was to identify how prevalent the “hidden” infections were to better understand the consequences on immunity and pandemic progression.

NIH collaborators were led by Kaitlyn Sadtler, Ph.D. from NIBIB, Matthew Hall, Ph.D. from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS) and Matthew Memoli, M.D. from NIAID. The project was conceived by Sadtler and Hall. The Protein Expression Laboratory team at Frederick National Laboratory was engaged to develop and produce protein reagents needed for the serological assay. This serological assay was then used to test volunteers for previous infection.  

“We met on a weekly basis to ensure the smooth development of the reagents and assays, and then to review as the initial data were generated. We also received significant assistance from academic collaborators at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of Alabama at Birmingham in enrolling volunteers and processing samples and surveys,” said Dominic Esposito, Ph.D., director of the Protein Expression Laboratory at Frederick National Laboratory. “The Protein Expression Laboratory team worked around the clock to optimize production protocols for the SARS-CoV-2 spike and RBD proteins. Our team often spent 16-hour days in the laboratory and worked through weekends to improve the abysmal yield of the spike protein to levels that would support the significant number of assays needed for the SeroSurvey. Within three months, we improved by tenfold the yield of protein, permitting a robust assay to be developed and executed in Dr. Sadtler’s laboratory.”

“It’s a great honor to be recognized for our contributions in the fight against SARS-CoV-2. It’s also nice to see recognition for a widespread collaboration across NIH institutes,” Esposito said. “This really shows the power of NIH when scientists from very different backgrounds can bring their immense talents to bear on a single focused project.”

In addition to Esposito, members of the award-winning Frederick National Laboratory team include Bill Gillette, Simon Messing, Matt Drew, Jennifer Mehalko, Kelly Snead, Vanessa Wall, Peter Frank and John-Paul Denson.

Asymptomatic Testing for COVID-19 Team  

Group photo

Nominated by the National Cancer Institute (NCI), “For dedication and collaboration in establishing sites for COVID-19 asymptomatic testing in Shady Grove and Frederick to support the health and safety of NIH staff.”

The Asymptomatic Testing for COVID-19 team established NIH/NCI’s first non-Clinical Center Asymptomatic COVID-19 testing sites at four locations including NCI-Frederick, the Vaccine Clinical Materials Program, the Advanced Technology Research Facility and NCI-Shady Grove. 

The team stood up several testing sites and identified essential equipment such as tables, chairs. and refrigerators. Next, the team identified volunteer staff members to run the testing sites and provide training on both sample collection and computer label management. Once volunteers were put in place to run the testing sites, they established the logistics of transporting patient samples from collection sites down to the Clinical Center in Bethesda and the replenishment of supplies to each collection site.

“Our team worked diligently to make sure we could offer weekly asymptomatic COVID-19 testing to any employee that wanted to be tested,” said Ronald Kunz, emergency manager of the Frederick National Laboratory Environment, Health and Safety department. “COVID-19 has made the past year very stressful, and we hope this testing program could help relieve some of the stress on our fellow employees.”

Frederick National Laboratory members of this award-winning group include Kunz and EHS Director Terri Bray. 

NIAID Accelerating COVID-19 Therapeutic Interventions and Vaccines Team 

Nominated by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), "For outstanding efforts in the pursuit of effective therapeutics to treat COVID-19.” The Clinical Monitoring Research Program Directorate helped facilitate dozens of clinical trials since before COVID-19 was deemed a pandemic. Some therapeutics went on to received approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are in clinical use today. CMRPD will continue to support NIAID clinical trials to test additional therapeutics and learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19.  

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