Damon Runyon News

May 25, 2021

In addition to his Damon Runyon-funded research project, which aims to optimize the delivery of the chemotherapy drug cisplatin, Quantitative Biology Fellow Vitor Mori, PhD, has dedicated some of his efforts over the past year to addressing the COVID-19 crisis in his home city of Sao Paulo, Brazil. The most populous city in the Western and Southern hemispheres, Sao Paolo has been struck particularly hard by the pandemic – Brazil’s COVID-19 death toll is second only to the United States.

Trained in mathematical and computational modeling, Dr. Mori developed simulations of various strategies to slow disease spread, leading him to become a prominent voice in public debates around risk reduction. To date, he has spoken or contributed to more than 30 mainstream news media outlets, including two op-eds in Brazil's most influential newspaper (Folha), on topics ranging from public policy to individual preventive measures. He has stressed in particular the importance of face masks, their proper use, and the role of better masks for higher-risk settings. 

Dr. Mori also provided bi-weekly reports to the city government from March to July 2020 to prevent collapse of an immensely overburdened burial system. Based on these reports, city government officials increased the number of graves, hired gravediggers, and developed a contingency plan for managing space and equipment shortages. Owing to Dr. Mori’s foresight, the burial system remained operational throughout the pandemic’s first wave, and was prepared when a second deadly wave hit the country in March 2021.

   Vitor Mori, PhD

As if all of this were not enough, Dr. Mori has also developed a mathematical model that may explain early hypoxemia (low blood oxygen) in the presence of relatively mild COVID-19 pneumonia, a symptom that has persistently troubled clinicians. This work, conducted in collaboration with Dr. Jacob Herrmann and Dr. Bela Suki of Boston University, and Dr. Jason Bates from the University of Vermont, is forthcoming in Nature Communications.

Dr. Mori’s efforts in response to the COVID-19 crisis underscore the importance of quantitative scientists in meeting the global health challenges of our time. Like many others, he was called to find new applications for his scientific training in the context of widespread panic and misinformation. We commend his vital contributions.