A Doctor Who Treated His Own Rare Disease Is Tracking COVID-19 Treatments Hiding In Plain Sight

Dr. David Fajgenbaum looking through a microscope at his lab.

Courtesy of Fajgenbaum

In late March, just as the COVID-19 pandemic was ramping up in the United States, David Fajgenbaum, a physician-scientist at the University of Pennsylvania, devised a 10-day challenge for his lab: they would sift through 1,000 recently published scientific papers documenting cases of the deadly virus from around the world, pluck out the names of any drugs used in an attempt to cure patients, and track the treatments and their outcomes in a database.

Before late 2019, no one had ever had to treat this exact disease before, which meant all treatments would be trial and error. Fajgenbaum, a pioneering researcher in the field of drug repurposing—which prioritizes finding novel uses for existing drugs, rather than arduously and expensively developing new ones for each new disease—knew that physicians around the world would be embarking on an experimental journey, the scale of which would be unprecedented. His intention was to briefly document the early days of this potentially illuminating free-for-all, as a sidebar to his primary field of research on a group of lymph node disorders called Castleman disease. But now, 11 months and 29,000 scientific papers later, he and his team of 22 are still going strong.

Keep Reading Keep Reading
Julia Sklar
Julia Sklar is a Boston-based independent journalist who covers science, health, and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @jfsklar.
Get our top stories twice a month
Follow us on
SCOOP: Largest Cryobank in the U.S. to Offer Ancestry Testing

Vanessa Colimorio (left) and Sharon Kochlany (right) at a farm with their four-year-old twin daughters and one-year-old son. The kids share the same sperm donor.

(Courtesy of Sharon Kochlany)


Keep Reading Keep Reading
Julia Sklar
Julia Sklar is a Boston-based independent journalist who covers science, health, and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @jfsklar.
Researchers Are Designing a Biosensor to Detect Viruses in Transit Hubs and Hospitals

A biosensor in development (inset) could potentially be used to detect novel viruses in transit hubs like Grand Central Station in New York City.

(Photo by Nicole Y-C on Unsplash; photo credit for the sensor: Prof. Wang's group in ETH/EMPA)


Keep Reading Keep Reading
Julia Sklar
Julia Sklar is a Boston-based independent journalist who covers science, health, and technology. You can follow her on Twitter at @jfsklar.