COVID-19 was first identified in late 2019 and has since resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and unprecedented lockdowns around the world. The disease is transmitted through airborne droplets from infected people, including asymptomatic “carriers” of the disease. Though many deaths occur in older people, the disease kills people of all ages and poses a special risk to those with serious lung conditions, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, kidney disease, liver disease, and those who are immunocompromised.

COVID-19 is caused by a new, or “novel,” form of coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2. This virus is related to the same coronaviruses that cause the common cold. Patients who do show signs of COVID-19 often experience flu-like symptoms that can escalate to severe breathing difficulty and death. Cardiovascular symptoms such as stroke have been reported, and the virus can cause a rare but serious complication called Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children (MIS-C) in younger patients.

Our Approach

The La Jolla Institute for Immunology is home to a multi-lab Coronavirus Task Force that capitalizes on our competitive advantages of unique skill in infectious disease research, state-of-the-art technology, and highly collaborative organization.

Members of the LJI Coronavirus Task Force are contributing their unique expertise and perspective in the following ways:

Validating a Novel, Point-Of-Need Diagnostic Test

In collaboration with diagnostic company Mologic, Dr. Sujan Shresta is validating a quick diagnostic test that can detect current or past infections with SARS-CoV-2 in the field.

Understanding Why and How Covid-19 Spreads and Kills

Dr. Alessandro Sette is establishing a global network to comprehensively map the T cell response to SARS-CoV-2. The work will provide an atlas to guide vaccine evaluation, establish the relative value of various viral targets and vaccine designs, and project the impact of viral variants that may be developing throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Pandurangan Vijayanand is carrying out genetic analysis of single T cells from groups of patients to quickly reveal what’s wrong with immune cells in the blood and lungs of patients with severe disease.

Dr. Shane Crotty is leading the effort to analyze helper T cells, focused on understanding how they help B cells make antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 in mild and severe disease manifestations, as this is likely important for knowing what will constitute a desirable immune response in the context of a vaccine.

Together with her international network of collaborators, Dr. Sujan Shresta is initiating epidemiological studies in Nepal, Thailand, and Vietnam to create a biorepository of Asian viral isolates and human samples. The samples will be used by several labs at LJI to provide fundamental insights into the virus itself, the role of the host immune system in disease severity as well as the development of long-term immunity to help guide the development of vaccines and antivirals.

Investigating Inflammatory Symptoms

Dr. Lynn Hedrick’s team studies whether the observed cardiovascular complications of COVID-19 may be influenced by an overactive innate immune system—the body’s first line of defense against pathogens. Dr. Hedrick is using mass cytometry (CyTOF) to analyze innate immune cells known as neutrophils and monocytes from patients with modest and severe manifestations of COVID-19 to determine whether the innate immune system contributes to vascular inflammation and abnormal blood clotting in the lung and other organs.

Dr. Sonia Sharma, who recently uncovered the immune-related metabolic trigger of inflammation in DADA2 vasculitis, is studying children afflicted with MIS-C, also called Pediatric Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome. Her lab has already collected 500 plasma and blood samples from COVID-19 positive and negative individuals (children and adults) in the greater Los Angeles area, with 20,000 more samples on the way, ~4% of which are estimated to be COVID-19 positive. She and her team are using these samples to examine whether the same immune-related metabolic mechanisms underlie multi-organ inflammation and vasculitis in children with MIS-C

Testing Therapies and Vaccines

Dr. Erica Ollmann Saphire has been funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to take on a leadership role in the molecular characterization of potential therapeutic antibodies against SARS-CoV-2. For more information visit

Relying on years of modeling viral infections in vitro and in vivo, Dr. Sujan Shresta’s lab is developing experimental systems to assess the efficacy of therapeutic antibodies and vaccines in living cells and animals.

Research Projects

Role of T Cells in Viral Infections (Including SARS-CoV-2)

  Selected References Kusnadi A, Ramírez-Suástegui C, Fajardo V, Chee SJ, Meckiff BJ, Simon H, Pelosi E, Seumois G, Ay


Reactivity study: A collaboration between the Sette lab and Shane Crotty, Ph.D., to document acquired immunity to SARS-CoV-2 and help


COVIC-DB: To co-run the LJI-led CoVIC database in the effort to find ideal therapeutic combinations for the novel coronavirus, the

Designing Vaccines: Differentiation and Function of Follicular Helper CD4 T Cells (Tfh Cells)

A video lecture on Tfh cell biology can be seen here. Germinal centers are the critical sites for the development

More research projects

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Jul 8, 2020
Vijayanand Lab

Pandurangan Vijayanand, M.D., Ph.D., and his lab members employ genomics tools to understand, diagnose and treat pulmonary disease such as asthma, lung cancer and infectious diseases, including the novel coronavirus.

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Pandurangan Vijayanand, M.D., Ph.D.
William K. Bowes Distinguished Professor, Center for Autoimmunity and Inflammation, Center for Cancer Immunotherapy
Jul 8, 2020
Shresta Lab

Sujan Shresta, Ph.D., and her team study the immunology and virology of mosquito-borne human pathogens such as dengue virus and Zika virus.

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Sujan Shresta, Ph.D.
Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research
Jul 8, 2020
Saphire Lab

Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D., studies, at the molecular level, how and why viruses are pathogenic. This work provides the roadmap for medical defense.

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Erica Ollmann Saphire, Ph.D.
President & Chief Executive Officer
Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research
Jul 8, 2020
Hedrick Lab

Catherine "Lynn" Hedrick, Ph.D., and her lab members study and target monocytes to aid in the prevention of cancer. The lab also investigates neutrophil heterogeneity in cancer and cardiovascular disease.

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Catherine Hedrick, Ph.D.
Center for Autoimmunity and Inflammation, Center for Cancer Immunotherapy
Jul 8, 2020
Crotty Lab

Shane Crotty, Ph.D., and his team study immunity against infectious diseases. They investigate how the immune system remembers infections and vaccines.

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Headshot of Shane Crotty. Blue shirt. Smiling
Shane Crotty, Ph.D.
Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research
Jul 2, 2020
Sette Lab

Alessandro Sette, Dr. Biol. Sci., defines in chemical terms the specific structures (epitopes) that the immune system recognizes and uses this knowledge to measure and understand immune responses.

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Alessandro Sette, Dr.Biol.Sci.
Center for Autoimmunity and Inflammation, Center for Infectious Disease and Vaccine Research