From Chagas to Coronavirus: Our Own Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi Tackles a Coronavirus Mystery in Children

Vida Pharmacal’s Clinical Research Director of Human Health, Alberto Paniz-Mondolfi M.D., Ph.D, has been immersed in Covid-19 research this year. In 2019, he joined the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine in New York as assistant professor of pathology, molecular, and cell-based medicine after fleeing Venezuela with his family earlier that year. His years spent fighting infectious diseases in South America placed him on the front lines of treating seriously ill children in New York soon after coronavirus hit.

Most children who catch the coronavirus only experience mild symptoms. But a few months after the coronavirus struck New York, Mount Sinai hospital began treating a small number of seriously ill children, most of whom had been infected with Covid-19 weeks earlier. The condition came to be known as multisystem inflammatory syndrome in children, or MIS-C.

As of September 3, 2020, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention had received reports of 792 MIS-C cases in the United States and 16 deaths; 20 have been treated at Mount Sinai as of Aug. 27. Of those nearly 800 cases, more than 70 percent have been either Black or Latino. A C.D.C. study published in August found that the rate of hospitalization for Black children with Covid-19 is five times higher than it is for white children, and the rate for Latino children is eight times higher.

Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his colleagues suspect the problem is multifaceted. It’s also possible that susceptibility has a genetic component. The doctors hope that by identifying risk factors, they will be able to prevent MIS-C or at least make it more treatable.

Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi earned a master’s degree in parasitology and tropical diseases in 2006 and completed fellowships around the world in microbiology, molecular genetics, and skin disease, as well as a second residency in the United States in pathology. He then returned to Venezuela, where he studied and treated patients with diseases like dengue, Chagas disease, chikungunya, and Guanarito virus, a mysterious hemorrhagic fever that kills nearly one in three people it infects. In 2018, Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi and his team were among the first in Venezuela to identify the Madariaga virus, a mosquito-borne pathogen that can cause fatal brain infections.

However, the research also highlighted problems in Venezuela with re-emerging and endemic infections. It’s believed that the Venezuelan government interpreted the research as a conspiracy. Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi began receiving anonymous threats over the phone and social media in 2019. With colleagues and friends warning him to leave the country, he and his family escaped to New York, where he joined the faculty at Mount Sinai.

We’re blessed to have Dr. Paniz-Mondolfi as a critical part of the Vida Pharmacal team, and we’re thankful for his safe arrival in the U.S. Read the entire New York Times story at