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Fighting COVID-19

A Faculty Summer: Dr. Toby’s Fight Against COVID-19

Dr. Toby's Student Research TeamDate published: Aug. 14, 2020

Assistant Professor of Biology Inimary Toby, Ph.D., has spent her summer fighting for the end of COVID-19 by volunteering with the National Scientist Volunteer Database (NSVD) as the Texas State Coordinator and by conducting lab research of the virus with her UD students. 

NSVD is an international volunteer coalition that develops and promotes community-based solutions for policymakers, businesses and individuals. As the Texas State Coordinator, Toby is responsible for placing each scientist into a volunteer position that best suits their expertise, so that together they can eliminate COVID-19 from our communities. NSVD has experts from all over the world communicating with one another about their research findings on the virus. 

“It can be a challenge to match each willing-to-help scientist into the best volunteer position,” Toby admits. The scientists come from a variety of backgrounds; biotech and academia are just a couple of examples. Working with NSVD has made Toby realize the need to have community coalitions ready and trained so that all of these moving pieces will already be in place in the case of a future pandemic. 

In addition to working with NSVD, Toby has spent the past six months in the lab with UD students Joseph Galasso, BS '22, Kaitlyn Saunders, BA ‘21, and Christian Lopez, BA '20, on a COVID-19 project researching the geographical patterns in human strains of SARS-CoV-2 gene sequences from the National Center for Biotechnology Information  (NCBI) database. Toby and her students utilized phylogenetic methods and found that their data suggests that human viral strain sequences from Washington State were different from the SARS-CoV-2 strain sequences found in Europe, which were both different from the strain sequences in China. They are pending publication of their research findings but would like to build upon the study as they continue to collect more genome sequence data

Another COVID-19 research project on which Toby is working this summer involves studying molecules predicted for use as therapeutic targets in COVID-19. This is a machine learning project being conducted in collaboration with Dr. Rolando Garcia at UT Southwestern Medical Center. UD students Kimberly Diwa, BS '22, Lavang Vu, BS '23, and Fajar Adnan, BS '20, are working on this project with Toby; two of them will be continuing to do so in the fall. 

In Toby’s opinion, Dallas County’s testing sites have been aggressively testing, which helps for research purposes through data collection; also, due to the increased testing, the spread of prevention education is in “much better shape.” Toby’s main area of interest is exploring ways to teach the population about the virus and how to slow the spread, “knowing that prevention is key.” 

“I love that the NSVD is helping me engage with the local community,” she said. “Also, each scientist involved feels like they are contributing something in the fight against COVID-19.”

Further, Toby is happy to be able to collaborate with her students in the lab, which provides the opportunity to continue her passion for teaching while fighting COVID-19. 

“This is shaping out to be a large-scale  experiment linking science and the community together,” said Toby of her collaborative work with the National Scientist Volunteer Database.

In the photo: Toby and her students collaborate on their research via Zoom.