Fall 2023 CIC Webinar Recap

Editor's note:

Guest Post: Anna Eggers

The twenty-seventh of the COVID Information Commons (CIC) webinar series took place on October 10, 2023. In this forum, leading COVID-19 scientists presented their current research on the global pandemic. 

Event moderators included Florence Hudson, Executive Director of the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University and COVID Information Commons Principal Investigator (PI), Lauren Close, Operations & Communications Manager, and Emily Rothenberg, National Student Data Corps (NSDC) Program Manager. 

The researchers presented on a range of topics, including neurological disorders, supply chain networks, preventing COVID spread, and more. Each touched on broader themes related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The session started with a presentation from Gregory Bix from Tulane University. Bix discussed his research project, SARS-CoV-2 mediated neuroinflammation and the impact of COVID-19 in neurological disorders. This project was funded by the NIH National Institute of Aging.

Bix and his team found that the amino acid sequence of SARS-CoV-2’s spike protein created a three amino acid structure called RGD. RGD is a binding structure that recognizes a particular class of cell surface receptors called integrins. SARS-CoV-2 is relatively unique among coronaviruses in that it has this RGD structure. It was speculated early in the pandemic that this integrin binding potential of SARS-CoV-2 might make it more virulent. The integrin subunits Bix and his team focused on were α5β1, an integrin in the brain which contributes to the blood-brain barrier. This barrier serves to prevent viruses from causing brain infection and swelling, but was found by the team to be negatively impacted by SARS-CoV-2 infection, leading to neurological issues in lab mice. In further research, Bix and his team found promising results when testing the ATN-161 peptide as an inhibitor to the α5β1 integrin, finding reduced viral replication and viral load.

A video of Gregory's presentation can be found on the CIC website.

Next, Zachary Boyd from Brigham Young University presented his research on LEAPS-MPS: Structure and Dynamics of Global Supply Chain Networks. This project was funded by the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences.

Boyd and his team analyzed the effectiveness of the current structural supply chain model which is managed with a constant ordering policy. This  policy is a relationship between firms where each firm is depended upon for a set amount of product. This is different from a novel policy model which allows varying orders based on past behavior and the forecasted demand.  A constant ordering policy model allows buyers to adjust the amount of product to depend on from different firms. When simulating the Bullwhip Effect with these two different models, Boyd and his team found that although times of stability were much more consistent in the structural model (constant ordering policy), the policy model (novel policy model) resulted in recovery from shock nearly three times faster than the structural model. 

A video of Zachary's presentation can be found on the CIC website.

Next, Leila Hedayatifar from the New England Complex Systems Institute presented her research on the Effects of preventive protocols in COVID spread, an agent-based framework. This project was funded by NSF Division of Environmental Biology.

Hedayatifar and her team created an agent-based model to mimic the spread of COVID with elaborate parameters to allow for countless situations to be represented. These models can be run with populations that are highly vaccinated and follow preventive protocols. The model can, alternatively, represent populations that do not prioritize prevention or vaccination. After running 100 simulations, Hedayatifar and the team found that reducing local and long-distance connections ultimately deters rapid spread of the disease, although it can increase the duration of the epidemic. They also found that preventative measures and vaccination decelerates the spread of disease and lowers the likelihood of reinfection. 

A video of Leila's presentation can be found on the CIC website.

To finish the webinar, Deepika Rama Subramanian and her advisor Leysia Palen, from the University of Colorado, Boulder presented their research on Fertile Ground: Women's Bodies as Sites for Motivating Disinformation. This project was funded by the NSF Division of Social and Economic Sciences.

Using a bottom-up qualitative coding approach with a stratified sample from a data set of vaccine related tweets, Subramanian and Palen found a pattern in tweets on vaccines and menstruation disruptions in late 2020 through early 2021. These tweets touched on four constructs: conspiratorial talk, flawed reasoning, pro-vaccine arguments, and uncertainty about vaccine safety. Medical professionals spoke out on Twitter (now X) to supply their informed opinions or cast doubt on vaccine safety. Individuals voiced their own support of the COVID vaccine while denying the lived experiences of menstruators or spoke out about concerns with changes in menstruation after receiving the COVID vaccine. Ultimately, Subramanian’s team found a connection between the acknowledgement of menstrual changes related to the COVID vaccines and discussions held on Twitter, meaning collective action online drew attention to these concerns in the face of silence from medical and scientific communities. Moving forward, the team believes it is important to have information available as an initial defense rather than rolled out as a correction to misinformation that has already left its mark with online social spaces. 

A video of Deepika's presentation can be found on the CIC website.

Following the presentation, Florence Hudson, Lauren Close, and Emily Rothenberg hosted a Q&A session where the audience was able to speak directly with researchers to have their questions answered and engage in enriching discussions. 

A recording of this event is available on the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub’s YouTube Channel and the COVID Information Commons website. The COVID Information Commons is an NSF-funded project brought to you by the Big Data Innovation Hubs, led by the Northeast Big Data Innovation Hub at Columbia University. 

We look forward to welcoming you to the next CIC Lightning Talks webinar! Please sign up for the CIC newsletter to be informed of future CIC events.

October 25, 2023