We are the MESSI study (Molecular and Epidemiological Study of Suspected Infection). The main goal of our research is to better understand how the body responds to particular types of infection and to use that information to develop infection biomarkers. 

In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, MESSI's research has pivoted to focus on people who have tested positive for COVID-19, or who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19. 

Our research teams at Duke include doctors and scientists who are working to fight COVID-19 in different ways:

  • Develop better diagnostic tests for the earliest stages of disease (including before the presence of symptoms)
  • Test for mutations in the virus over time
  • Understand the development of antibodies and other immune responses to infection over time
  • Evaluate treatment options with convalescent plasma or monoclonal antibodies
  • Advance vaccine development

How can I help?

We are seeking adults and children who have either been infected with COVID-19 or who live with someone who has been infected. We will collect blood, nasal and possibly other types of samples for up to one month. We are also interested in collecting oral/snout samples from pets to understand what role they play in transmission.


I was just diagnosed with COVID-19 – can I participate? 
Yes, people at all stages of infection can help – including patients currently unwell in the hospital or in the community.

I have already resolved my infection with COVID-19 – can I participate?
Yes, people with either active or resolved infection can participate in MESSI.

I am quarantined at home because of COVID-19 – can I still participate?
Yes, we can travel to you if you live in the Triangle area.

I had a viral infection, but was never officially tested for COVID-19 – can I participate?
You may still be eligible for the study. Please contact us to provide details of your case and we can offer more specific recommendations.

I am already involved in another COVID-19 study – can I participate?
Yes, being part of another COVID-19 study, or being on a medication for COVID-19, does not exclude you from participating in MESSI.

Who else in my home can participate?
We are enrolling children over the age of 2, adults and pets.

What samples are you collecting?
We are collecting nasal swabs, throat swabs, blood samples and possibly other types of samples. Some of your blood will be used to obtain genetic information (DNA and RNA). These genes reflect how your body responds to infection. Some patients will also be asked to give urine specimens. All research results from patient samples will be kept confidential. 

Are you giving any treatment for COVID-19 with this study?
There are no medications or other treatments that will be administered to subjects as a part of this study.

How long do I need to be in the study?
Subjects will be followed for up to one month after enrollment. At that time, we may discuss the possibility of enrolling in a long-term follow-up study, in which we would follow you for up to a year.

Are there any financial costs from being in the study?
There are no out-of-pocket expenses and your insurance will not be billed for any study-related costs.

Will I be compensated?
Participants will be compensated $25 for each date of sample collection. Payment will be issued at the end of participation.

What if I decide later that I no longer want to do the study?
You may opt out of the study at any time. We ask that you notify our study team if you decide to leave. You will still be financially compensated for the study visits that were completed.

Will I be able to learn my test results?
Since this is a research study, you may not be informed in real-time about all test results. It is possible that this study will identify information about you that was previously not known, such as disease status or risk. There are no plans to provide this information to you or your physician unless the information indicates that you may be at risk for a serious illness known at the time of testing to be treatable. In that case, we will attempt to notify you using the contact information you provide.

I recovered from COVID-19, and now want to donate my plasma to help others – can I coordinate this with you?
Yes, as part of our study, we will be testing your antibody response (how your body responded to your COVID-19 infection). If you have a good antibody response and are willing, we can help connect you with the Red Cross for convalescent plasma donation.

Related News 

About Our COVID-19 Research

Uncovering the Unknowns to COVID-19 Testing
A new test developed by Ephraim Tsalik and team may improve COVID-19 diagnosis.

A Whirlwind for a Duke Doctor's Dog After COVID-19 Test
The virus that causes COVID-19 was initially detected in Duke pediatrician Heather McLean’s pug while part of the MESSI study.

USDA: NC pug never contracted COVID-19
A pug named Winston, believed to be the first dog to test positive for COVID-19 in the U.S., was likelt never infected with the virus, according to new findings from the National Veterinary Services Laboratory. 

Chapel Hill pug tests positive for virus that causes COVID-19; first known case in a dog in the US
A Chapel Hill family's dog has tested positive for coronavirus. The family took part in the MESSI research study on April 1. 

School of Medicine hosts virtual COVID-19 research day to facilitate quick faculty collaboration during pandemic
More than 700 faculty, staff and students tuned into Duke School of Medicine's first COVID-19 Research Forum with the goal of highlighting important work, sharing knowledge, discussing opportunities, and encouraging collaboration.

Fear and panic become just as dangerous at the pathogen itself
How infectious disease expert Chris Woods is searching for answers about COVID-19.

Duke researchers studying infected people to find treatment for coronavirus
A Duke research team is studying people who have been infected with the new coronavirus to determine if the immunity their bodies have built ip against the virus could be transferred to the most ill patients.

About Our Faculty – During COVID-19

Duke Experts Address Coronavirus Testing Issues
Re-opening the economy and ending social distancing too soon could have "disastrous results," Chris Woods and others said during media briefing.

How to stay safe and support others during the COVID-19 pandemic
Chris Woods spoke with The Chronicle about how students should stay healthy, keep others safe and support each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Chris Woods speaks with Congressman Price on Facebook Live about COVID-19
Dr. Chris Woods and Dr. Colin Duckett from Duke Health joined Congressman David Price on Facebook Live to help answer questions about COVID-19.

'We can control the outbreak': Duke infectious disease doctor says COVID-19 situation will get worse before it gets better 
Christopher Woods has been studying emerging infections for his entire career, but hasn't seen anything quite like this.

Duke University School of Medicine experts discuss Duke's response to COVID-19
Watch a recorded webinar featuring Duke University School of Medicine experts discussing the public health impact of the coronavirus and Duke's research related to COVID-19 and infectious diseases.

About Our Faculty – General

Bacterial, Viral, or Neither? Host Response Test Has Answers
Predigen, a Duke spin-out company co-founded by Chris Woods and Ephraim Tsalik is putting the last touches on a host response bacterial-viral test entering the final leg of the Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR) Diagnostic Challenge. 

Ephraim L. Tsalik, M.D., Ph.D., MHS, on ID Host Response Biomarkers
In this podcast, Ephraim L. Tsalik discusses the biomarkers for diagnosing infectious diseases, including tuberculosis and sepsis, and details which ones are most likely to make it to clinical practice. 

Identifying the Epigenetic Fingerprints of Weapons of Mass Destruction
Chris Woods is a principal investigator in $38.8 million DARPA project to help develop genetic test for exposure to weapons of mass destruction.

Woods Awarded Research Mentoring Award for Translational Research
Chris Woods was recognized at the 2019 Spring Faculty Meeting and awarded a Research Mentoring Award for Translational Research

Gene Expression Test Aims to Reduce Antibiotic Overuse
A research team, partially supported by NIH, recently made progress toward a simple blood test that analyzes patterns of gene expression to determine if a patient’s respiratory symptoms likely stem from a bacterial infection, viral infection, or no infection at all.

Our Team

Dr. Chris Woods headshotDr. Christopher Woods, M.D., MPH
Principle Investigator





Dr. Micah McClain headshot

Dr. Micah McClain, M.D., Ph.D.





Dr. Ephraim Tsalik headshotDr. Ephraim Tsalik, M.D., Ph.D. 





Liz Petzold headshotDr. Elizabeth Petzold, Ph.D.
Program Manager





Kate Frankey headshotKate Frankey
Project Leader





Allison Fullenkamp headshotAllison Fullenkamp
Project Leader




Contact Us/Enroll

For more questions about the study or for information on how to enroll, contact us at

After signed consent is received, we will contact you to set up your first appointment.


McClain, MT, et al. Dysregulated transcriptional responses to SARS-CoV-2 in the periphery support novel diagnostic approaches. medRxiv. 2020 July.

Lydon, EC, et al. Validation of a host response test to distinguish bacterial and viral respiratory infectionEBioMedicine. 2019 Oct;48:453-461.

Bloom, AS, et al. Utility of predictive tools for risk stratification of elderly individuals with all-cause acute respiratory infection. Infection. 2019 Aug;47(4):617-627.

Burke, TW, et al. Nasopharyngeal Protein Biomarkers of Acute Respiratory Virus InfectionEBioMedicine. 2017 Mar;17:172-181.

Sobel Leonard, A, et al. Deep Sequencing of Influenza A Virus from a Human Challenge Study Reveals a Selective Bottleneck and Only Limited Intrahost Genetic Diversification. J Virol. 2016 Nov 28;90(24):11247-11258.

Tsalik, EL, et al. Host gene expression classifiers diagnose acute respiratory illness etiologySci Transl Med. 2016 Jan 20;8(322):322ra11. 


NIH Antibacterial Resistance Leadership Group (ARLG)

United States Department of Defense (DOD)


Duke University IRB PROTOCOL NUMBER:  Pro00100241