UNC-Chapel Hill COVID-19 Research Output & Collaboration Analysis

 Prepared by

Nandita S. Mani, PhD
Michelle Cawley, MLS
Adam Dodd, MIS
Fei Yu, PhD
Barrie Hayes, MSLS


Research contributing to discoveries associated with COVID-19 has been growing on the UNC campus over the past year. To help increase visibility of this integral research and illustrate the extensive organizational collaborations that help move UNC research forward, a team from University Libraries – Health Sciences Library analyzed the COVID-19 research output of UNC Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) researchers. Between January 2020 and April 2021, a total of 782 UNC-CH researchers have authored 579 publications. This publication set was used to answer the following questions:

  1. What is UNC-CH’s research output related to COVID-19 and in which journals are UNC-CH researchers publishing?
  2. Which individuals within the University have been involved in research efforts?
  3. How are schools within UNC-CH collaborating on COVID-19 research efforts?
  4. With which institutions, organizations, and countries are UNC-CH researchers collaborating?
  5. What are the various areas of focus being investigated within the research domain?

Eighteen authors from UNC-CH had eight or more publications during the period analyzed and research output was dominated by authors affiliated with UNC School of Medicine and UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. Articles were published in a variety of journals including leading journals in clinical care (e.g., JAMA, Lancet), Science (e.g., Nature, Science), and public health (e.g., American Journal of Public Health). UNC-CH researchers collaborated with authors from 81 other countries, and most often with co-authors based in the Canada, United Kingdom, China, and Australia.

Research topics in the publications analyzed included:

  • Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on clinical care in terms of new recommendations, guidelines, practice changes, care accessibility, telemedicine, & healthcare workforce.
  • Disease management, transmission, susceptibility, and associated international law and policy (e.g., travel and surveillance).
  • Mental health, violence, stress, cancer, respiratory syndrome, IBD
  • Virus origin, infection, control, and classification.
  • Drug development, repurposing, and efficacy related to treating SARS-COV-2.


We searched Scopus and PubMed for literature relating to COVID-19 with one or more authors affiliated with UNC-CH to create the dataset for analysis. Scopus was searched from January 2020 to April 15, 2021. Our experience demonstrated that publications in PubMed will be indexed in Scopus; however, there may be a brief lag.
Therefore, we searched PubMed for articles published over the previous 30 days (i.e., since March 15, 2021).

Our initial search strategy to identify literature on COVID-19 or the novel coronavirus for PubMed was based on the strategy for NIH’s LitCovid database developed by the National Library of Medicine: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/research/coronavirus/faq. We added terms to this strategy including MeSH terms and translated the search to run in Scopus (the search strategy is available at: https://go.unc.edu/UNC-COVID19-Research).

Search results for COVID-19 literature were limited to results with one or more authors affiliated with UNC-CH and included authors affiliated with schools or divisions including UNC School of Medicine, Gillings School of Global Public Health, UNC Medical Center, or other relevant UNC-CH affiliations (the search strategy is available at: https://go.unc.edu/UNC-COVID19-Research).

Search results were compiled into an EndNote library to remove duplicates. Errata, corrections, and corrigenda were removed and set aside in EndNote. Our team manually screened search results for relevance to COVID-19. We erred on the side of inclusion and as a result a few publications may be indirectly related to COVID-19. Analyses, including visualizations were developed using the unique, relevant studies from this search.

Publications by Author and Unit

Our analysis shows that those engaged in COVID-19 scholarship are primarily affiliated with UNC School of Medicine and Gillings School of Global Public Health (Table 1). Other affiliations reported by UNC-CH researchers who have COVID-19-related publications include UNC Health, other health affairs schools, and several institutes, centers, and initiatives. Publication types include journal articles (344), reviews (91), notes (63), letters (42), editorials (25), conference papers (6), short surveys (6), and book chapters (2).

Table 1: Affiliations for UNC-CH researchers with one or more COVID-19-related publications. Publications may be counted for multiple units if researchers from different UNC-CH units were among the authors on a single publication.
UNC-CH Units with 200 or More COVID-19-Related Publications
UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health UNC School of Medicine
UNC-CH Units with 11 to 50 COVID-19-Related Publications
Cecil G. Sheps Center for Health Services Research UNC Eshelman School of Pharmacy
Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center UNC Health
UNC College of Arts and Sciences* UNC School of Social Work
UNC-CH Units with 10 or fewer COVID-19-Related Publications
Carolina Population Center School of Library and Information Science (SILS)
Institute for Global Health and Infectious Diseases (IGHID) UNC / NCSU Joint Department of Biomedical Engineering
Marsico Lung Institute UNC Hussman School of Journalism and Media
NC Translational and Clinical Sciences Institute (NC TraCS) UNC Rapidly Emerging Antiviral Drug Discovery Initiative
Renaissance Computing Initiative at UNC (RENCI) UNC School of Nursing
*UNC College of Arts and Sciences includes authors affiliated with UNC Department of Psychology and Neuroscience, UNC Department of Public Policy, and UNC Department of Computer Science among others.

Eighteen researchers affiliated with UNC-CH including faculty, staff, students, fellows, and post-docs published eight or more publications during the period analyzed. In total, these 18 UNC-CH researchers contributed to 125 publications related to COVID-19 from January 2020 to April 2021 (Figure 1). Dr. Ralph S. Baric from the Gillings School of Global Public Health leads the publication output of UNC-CH authors with 55 publications in the period analyzed.

Figure 1: Total COVID-19-related publications January 2020  to April 2021 for 18 authors with eight or more COVID-19-related publications who reported an affiliation with UNC Chapel Hill.

Line chart showing number of publications by author (school)

Topic Analysis

We used the k-means algorithm to cluster title and abstract text in the full dataset of 579 publications to identify topics addressed by UNC-CH authors (Table 2). The k-means algorithm identifies a single cluster for each study and a set of keywords for each cluster that can be used to distinguish publications in each cluster. Bold formatting in Table 2 was added by authors to indicate unique topics for each cluster. We clustered using 2-grams meaning that keywords could be one or two words long. Additional stop words were added prior to clustering including: copyright, publication, abstract, ci, 95, delaying, middle, era, patient, patients, results, health, 2019, 19, shibboleth, use, using, human, pandemic, study.


Table 2: Topic analysis for all UNC-CH publications related to COVID-19 January 2020 to April 2021 (N=579). Studies assigned to clusters and keywords generated using k-means algorithm.
Cluster # of Studies1 Keywords
1 43 opportunity, disorder, mental, care, available, new, telehealth, disorder available, challenges, social, crisis, people, challenge, response, bipolar disorder, bipolar, medical, stress, opioid disorder, opioid
2 55 disease, high, data, risk, care, coronavirus, public, income, including, factors, countries, low, novel, behavioral, review, related, available, income countries2, high risk, level
3 109 cov, sars, sars cov, infection, vaccine, cov infection, respiratory, coronavirus, acute, syndrome, severe, available, acute respiratory, respiratory syndrome, virus, disease, severe acute, cells, coronavirus sars, syndrome coronavirus
4 46 impact, impact covid, practice, united states, united, states, pediatric, available, care, states available, coronavirus, risk, surgical, challenges, social, scientific, dental, coronavirus covid, clinical, treatment
5 12 IBD, registry, registry available, secure IBD, IBD covid, secure, IBD registry, therapy, international, available, fetal, value international, collaboration available, covid value, international registry, inflammatory bowel, bowel, outcomes, inflammatory, international collaboration
6 84 disease, coronavirus, coronavirus disease, respiratory, studies, clinical, disease covid, society, based, diseases, published, infectious, permissions, review, care, mortality, severe, research, syndrome, rights reserved
7 90 data, symptoms, social, care, reported, mental, adults, risk, response, associated, survey, participants, 2021, findings, life, outcomes, measures, methods, related, infection
8 13 international, international regulations, regulations, violate, violate international, law, restrictions, travel, available, travel restrictions, regulations covid, outbreak available, restrictions violate, law available, international law, regulations available, reimagining international, covid reimagining, solidarity wake, wake covid
9 10 center, admissions, admissions covid, increased, burn center, burn, center admissions, increased burn, respiratory diagnostic, diagnostic center, center available, covid available, covid respiratory, development implementation, implementation covid, available, therapy implications, tocilizumab associated, increased infection, car cell
10 117 available, covid available, care, prevention, time, research, learning, time covid, reply, public, prevention covid, student, cancer, violence, considered covid, ecmo, ecmo considered, venoarterial, venoarterial ecmo, disease
1 See https://go.unc.edu/UNC-COVID19-Research to review study lists by cluster in MS Excel.

2 Refers to studies evaluating topics related to COVID-19 in low, middle, and high income countries.

Collaboration Analyses

UNC-CH researchers are engaged in a high degree of collaboration both with U.S. institutions and international entities (Figure 2). Collaboration analyses indicate that UNC-CH researchers co-authored four or more publications with 93 other institutions in the United States. Of these 93 institutions, UNC-CH researchers collaborated with 34 entities on 10 or more publications; with Harvard University leading with 42 publications (Table 3a). UNC-CH partnered with researchers affiliated with 24 international institutions on four or more publications (Table 3b).

In total, of the 579 UNC-CH authored publications analyzed, UNC-CH researchers collaborated with more than 4000 external researchers in 81 other countries (Figure 3). International collaborations with UNC-CH authors primarily occurred with researchers in Canada (N=63), the United Kingdom (N=62), China (N=38), and Australia (N=35).

Figure 2: Organizational collaborations between UNC-CH researchers and U.S. or international institutions with five or more shared publications. All UNC-CH units (e.g., health affairs schools, UNC Health, institutes) are combined as single data point in blue.

Data Visualization of UNC-CH and other researchers on COVID-19

Table 3. Collaborations between UNC-CH authors and U.S. and global institutions on COVID-19-related publications; (a). institutions in the U.S. with 10 or more publication collaborations; (b). global institutions with 4 or more publication collaborations.

Table showing collaborations between UNC-CH and other researchers

Figure 3: Publications by country for UNC-CH COVID-19-related global research collaborations. UNC-CH authors collaborated with researchers from 82 countries including the United States.

Global map showing publications by country

Next Steps

When examining the extent to which UNC-CH has collaborated on a global scale, it is clear that the value we hold in being a strong global public research university remains strong. Through engaging in research focused on therapeutics, behavioral health, international regulations, respiratory diagnostics, vaccine development, mental health, and pediatrics, UNC researchers have made impactful contributions towards understanding, mitigating, and ultimately, combatting the COVID-19 pandemic at a time when academic partners and leaders were called to action.

In future iterations of this analysis, our team will focus on identifying efficiencies throughout our processes whereby we can seamlessly update UNC-based COVID-19 literature on a semi-annual basis. In addition, the team plans to provide search alerts for schools or research teams that are interested in keeping up to date with literature in their research domain. We also plan. to investigate the creation of an interactive dashboard from which users can view and interact with real-time data.

Additional Information

The COVID-19 citation set and search strategies used for these analyses can be downloaded from the HSL web site via: https://go.unc.edu/UNC-COVID19-Research. The following files are available to download:

Further, the UNC Health Sciences Library has developed and continues to maintain a COVID-19 LibGuide available at: https://guides.lib.unc.edu/COVID19.

Last modified: 07/12/21