CHOC Bill Holmes Tower

Infectious disease specialist’s research on coronavirus at OC schools to be recognized in leading journal

Dr. Chulie Ulloa, a pediatric infectious diseases specialist on CHOC’s medical staff, has been selected as an Early Career Investigator (ECI) by the prestigious journal Pediatric Research for her leading role in a study of coronavirus transmission rates at four Orange County schools.

Dr. Ulloa, also an assistant professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the UCI School of Medicine, was a multiple principal investigator of the seminal study, whose key finding was that within-school transmission of SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, was limited in the K-12 population. That finding debunked early fears about widespread coronavirus transmission at schools.

Being selected as an ECI will raise the profile of Dr. Ulloa’s work and win her wider recognition in her field.

Dr. Chulie Ulloa, pediatric infectious diseases specialist

Her article, “SARS-CoV-2 Acquisition and Immune Pathogenesis Among School-Aged Learners in Four Diverse Schools,” will be published in the November issue of Pediatric Research, along with a brief biography.

Dr. Dan Cooper, who treats kids with lung conditions at CHOC and who serves as director of UC Irvine’s Institute for Clinical & Translational Science, was the other multiple principal investigator of Dr. Ulloa’s paper, a collaboration between CHOC, the Orange County Health Care Agency, and UCI.

“What a tribute to the team’s fantastic effort and to the collaboration between CHOC, OCHCA, and UCI,” Cooper said.

At the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools were reflexively closed as there were fears that aggregation of school-aged children would lead to increased infection. Infectivity and immunobiology of SARS-CoV-2 in children attending schools was not yet understood.

What the work of Dr. Ulloa and others adds is that school-associated infections reflected regional rates rather than remote or onsite learning, and that successful mitigation was implemented across a diverse range of schools. In addition, the paper found that reduced immune mediator concentrations coupled with robust humoral and cellular immunity may explain the milder symptoms in school-aged children.

But the work is not over.

With the rise of new SARS-CoV-2 variants, and with safety and efficacy studies of COVID-19 vaccines just beginning in children less than 12 before the complex process of approval for emergency use on a widespread scale, the reopening of schools scheduled just weeks away will be challenging.

“The research done by the CHOC-UCI-OCHCA team is a model of how physicians, scientists, and community partners can come together to face even the most daunting challenges,” Dr. Cooper said.

CHOC Vice President for Research and Chief Scientific OfficerDr. Terence Sangerhas called Dr. Ulloa a rising superstar in the field of pediatric infectious disease research.

“Dr. Ulloa is the perfect example of the type of clinician-scientist who will make a huge difference for our patients and our children’s health now and in the future,” said Dr. Sanger, a physician, engineer, and computational neuroscientist who also is vice chair of research for pediatrics at the UCI School of Medicine.

“We are so pleased that she is working with CHOC and UCI, and that she is helping to strengthen the connection between these two institutions that both care deeply about improving the health and lives of children,” Dr. Sanger added.

Dr. Coleen Cunningham, senior vice president and pediatrician-in-chief at CHOC and chair of the UCI Department of Pediatrics, agrees.

“Dr. Ulloa is a rising star physician scientist who contributes greatly to children at CHOC and UCI,” Dr. Cunningham said.

Pediatric Research is the official journal of the European Society for Paediatric Research, the American Pediatric Society, and the Society for Pediatric Research, and is overseen by the board of the International Pediatric Research Foundation, an organization composed of members of the three societies.

Dr. Ulloa said she is honored to be recognized as an ECI in Pediatric Research.

“I also want to emphasize that none of this would have been possible without the remarkable efforts of our team across CHOC, UCI, OCHCA, and the dedication of the faculty and staff at our local schools,” she said. “Together we worked tirelessly and persevered during an anxiety-provoking and uncertain time at the height of the pandemic to ultimately produce much-needed data on COVID-19 in children.”