Dennis Hartigan-O’Connor, M.D., Ph.D.

As scientists rush to find a vaccine for COVID-19, CNPRC core scientist, Dennis Hartigan-O’Connor, M.D., Ph.D is working to optimize vaccine technologies to protect high-risk populations. The University of California Office of the President has awarded Hartigan-O’Connor, along with other scientists across UC campuses, seed funding for new projects related to COVID-19.

Hartigan-O’Connor’s work will focus on developing vaccine strategies specifically for patients with diabetes mellitus (DM). Despite COVID-19’s low mortality rate amongst the general population, individuals with DM have a particularly high risk of acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and increased mortality.

Due to DM-associated innate immune dysfunction, research focused on vaccine effectiveness in the diabetic population has been inconclusive. A 2020 review article exploring immune responses to various vaccines in individuals with or without DM found conflicting results depending on the type of vaccine in question.

In an effort to work around possible complications with innate immune function in DM patients, Hartigan-O’Connor will test a novel immunogen with the potential to activate immune cells specific for the SARS-CoV spike protein. The hope is that this approach, in comparison to more conventional immunization techniques, will depend less on innate immunity and therefore be more effective in diabetic populations.

Written by Logan Savidge