News Release

Nemours Children’s Health secures NIH grant to study COVID-19 mortality risk and pre-existing conditions

Prestigious Trailblazer Award to Fund Research on ACE2 and COVID-19 Severity

Business Announcement


WILMINGTON, Del. (August 2, 2021) – Xuyi (Kevin) Yue, PhD, Assistant Research Scientist in the Diagnostic and Research PET/MRI Center at Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children in Delaware, has secured a three-year, $568,000 National Institutes of Health R21 grant for the study, “Development and Evaluation of Radiotracers for PET Imaging Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme 2 (ACE2)” (Grant Number 1 R21 EB032025-01).

A multidisciplinary Nemours team will investigate whether differences in expression of a receptor that enables COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) to enter cells are more common in COVID-19 patients with comorbid conditions, such as respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, diabetes, and hypertension. This high-impact exploratory study will be the first to develop and use a positron emission tomography (PET) radioactive imaging agent to detect expression and distribution of ACE2, the cellular entry receptor for SARS-CoV-2.

A better understanding of whole-body ACE2 expression levels and distribution will illuminate the relationship between ACE2 levels and severity of COVID-19 infection. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers are frequently used to treat these pre-existing conditions, but it is not known whether these treatments could actually exacerbate COVID-19 symptoms and contribute to higher mortality rates.

“We hope to lay a foundation to understand whether ACE2 expression levels correlate with severity of COVID-19 symptoms,” said Dr. Yue, the study’s principal investigator. “This knowledge may ultimately help the medical research community better understand the renin-angiotensin system, and specifically ACE2, in the pathogenesis of COVID-19 in both higher-risk adult and lower-risk pediatric populations.”

Dr. Yue added, “This may also lead to innovative approaches to better treat patients with COVID-19 illness.”

In addition to Dr. Yue, the Nemours team will include co-investigators Drs. Sigrid Langhans and Rahul Nikam and collaborators, Drs. Thomas Shaffer, Lauren Averill, and Heidi Kecskemethy.

“Receiving the NIH Trailblazer Award is an enormous honor for early-career scientists,” said Vicky Funanage, PhD, Executive Director of Research at Nemours. “We are fortunate to have one of the nation’s top young scientific minds in Dr. Yue, who along with his outstanding team is doing innovative, ground-breaking research that is likely to have significant impact on public health globally.”

Trailblazer Awards fund research for which minimal or no preliminary data exists. They support new and early-stage investigators pursuing research of strong interest to the NIH National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering at the interface of the life sciences, physical sciences, and engineering.


About Nemours Children’s Health

Nemours Children’s Health is one of the nation’s largest multistate pediatric health systems, including two free-standing children's hospitals and a network of nearly 80 primary and specialty care practices across five states. Nemours seeks to transform the health of children by adopting a holistic health model that utilizes innovative, safe, and high quality care, while also caring for the health of the whole child beyond medicine. Nemours also powers the world’s most-visited website for information on the health of children and teens,

The Nemours Foundation, established through the legacy and philanthropy of Alfred I. duPont, provides pediatric clinical care, research, education, advocacy, and prevention programs to the children, families and communities it serves.

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