COVID-19 research becomes personal for one Miller School alumnus
By Karen Doss Bowman
Photography by Jeffery Salter
mmanuel Thomas, Ph.D. ’05, M.D. ’07, has studied viruses — primarily HIV and HCV (hepatitis C) — since medical school. When the novel coronavirus hit the Miami area in March, his research became personal: His wife, Caroline, is on the frontline of the battle as an ICU nurse at a local hospital caring for COVID-19 patients.
“When the first patients started coming into the ICU, it was a scary time for all of us in the medical community because we didn’t really understand the extent to which the pandemic would impact the U.S.,” said Dr. Thomas, a research associate professor at the University of Miami Leonard M. Miller School of Medicine. “People were dying every day, and there was a lot of worry and uncertainty. I was driven to help with testing and to educate the community more about this particular virus.”
Dr. Thomas contributed to the Miller School’s implementation of one of the earliest emergency use authorization-approved tests for SARS-CoV2, the virus that causes COVID-19, and has done national webinars about the virus as part of his work with the American Liver Foundation and the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases. Before students returned to campus for the fall semester, Dr. Thomas moderated a webinar for approximately 500 UM faculty to address their concerns, provide the latest COVID-19 information, and discuss the challenges of returning to in-person teaching.
Emmanuel Thomas, Ph.D. ’05, M.D. ’07
An evolving focus
Most of Dr. Thomas’s research focuses on RNA viruses affecting the liver, with current studies under way to better understand the interplay between infections, inflammation, and disease progression. He’s received more than $4 million in funding from the National Institutes of Health and the Florida Department of Health. He also co-leads a study to develop a replicable model program that embodies best practices in HIV and HCV screening and linkage to care at the UHealth Tower Emergency Department, and also co-leads an HCV-elimination program for the state of Florida.
A fellow of the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases, Dr. Thomas is also on the national advisory board for the American Liver Foundation and served on the editorial boards of The Journal of Infectious Diseases, the Journal of Translational Medicine, and Hepatology.
Inspired by his parents’ careers in medicine — his mother, a nurse, and his father, a respiratory therapist — it seemed natural for Dr. Thomas to follow in their footsteps. He’s grateful for his experiences at the Miller School, which are the foundation for his work.
“My work on viruses, which started when I was pursuing my Ph.D. during medical school, was really the stepping stone for me to be involved in the work I’m doing now — to understand COVID-19-driven inflammatory processes better,” he said. “It was a natural transition from my doctoral work, which was focused on our body’s defense system against pathogens, to move into medically applicable virus work. Given my experience, I’ve been able to establish some nationally recognized positions and influence thinking around COVID-19. Medicine is an ever-changing and exciting field that offers an amazing ability to have a positive impact on people’s lives.”