Grants are part of an initiative to organize USF’s research efforts to fight current and future pandemics.
TAMPA, Fla. (April 22, 2020) – The University of South Florida’s newly created COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Grants program has selected 14 projects to receive initial funding for research on potential treatments, technologies and social mitigation strategies in the wake of the global pandemic.
USF is investing nearly $340,000 to start this group of interdisciplinary projects, which seek to address the pandemic by exploring many different facets, including discovering treatments for COVID-19 infections, developing new technologies to help prevent the spread of the virus, launching efforts to protect public safety and managing the emotional impacts of the virus. Funding from the Florida High Tech Corridor Councilwill also support some of the projects.
The goal of the effort is to quickly scale up these projects in the next few months, while USF researchers also seek longer-term federal research support through the CARES Act and other sources.
“The breadth and depth of efforts by the University of South Florida scientists, physicians, innovators and scholars to respond to all aspects of this pandemic reflects our institution’s commitment to high-impact research and public service,” USF President Steven Currall said. “We are moving quickly with our brightest and most creative faculty and student researchers collaborating to find solutions to the complex challenges presented by current and future global health crises. This is precisely the role of a metropolitan public research university, a responsibility we take very seriously.”
Projects selected for the first round of funding include:
- Antibodies and immunity: This project would explore the presence of SARS-CoV-2 antibodies and potential immunity using a combination of tests to determine which will best detect whether a person is immune to the virus or not. The research is important to determine whom among the medical staff are potentially immune to SARS-CoV-2, who can return to work safely because they have developed an immunity to the virus, and will allow researchers to recalculate a more accurate fatality rate among the general population. Principal investigator: Dr. Kami Kim, Morsani College of Medicine and Director of the Division of Infectious Disease & International Medicine.
- Susceptibility in different ethnic backgrounds: The project would attempt to understand the disproportionate SARS-CoV-2 disparities among ethnic groups. COVID-19 victims are disproportionately represented by those with pre-existing cardiovascular conditions (hypertension and heart failure) and by specific ethnic groups (African-Americans and Hispanics) who have double the infection rates and mortality in some of the disease hotspots. The project would explore important unanswered questions on racial disparities and COVID-19, including whether ethnic differences in infection rates and cardiovascular complications are solely due to socioeconomic disparities, or if there are cellular-level or other medical explanations. Principal investigator: Thomas McDonald, Morsani College of Medicine, USF Health Heart Institute.
- Contact tracing app: Researchers are developing a new approach to contact-tracing via the Bluetooth-LE signal of smartphones that would advance contact tracing for communicable diseases. The first phase of the research would develop a secure system for critical organizations allowing their members to report their condition and to isolate/test members who have been in contact with confirmed cases. A second phase of the project would allow for volunteer participants to report their condition and learn if they have been in close contact with confirmed cases without revealing their identity. Principal investigator: Jean-Francois Biasse, College of Arts & Sciences and Director of the Center for Cryptographic Research.
- Sterilizing masks to prevent shortages: This team proposes addressing the shortage of N95 masks using a newly created technology that can rapidly sterilize and restore the masks’ filtration effectiveness. Using the mechanism of corona discharge to destroy viruses and bacteria, this technology is under development to rapidly sterilize PPE such as single-use N95 masks for healthcare workers and make them reusable. The aim of the technology is to further reduce PPE shortage issues while protecting the safety of medical personnel. The researchers also are working to develop the technology to offer an efficient sterilization solution for other commonly shared surfaces to prevent COVID-19 spread. The USF inventors have filed a new patent application on the technology and are working to establish an industry partnership to rapidly advance the research and development of these new devices. Principal investigator: Ying Zhong, College of Engineering.
- Loneliness during social distancing: The COVID-19 pandemic has fractured social support systems and the effects of loneliness will likely be magnified during social distancing, especially among those with pre-existing psychological vulnerabilities, such as depression and anxiety. The project will document and analyze the impact of COVID-19 on psychosocial and physical well-being and work to develop new tools and solutions to help vulnerable people maintain social connections while adhering to social distancing guidelines. Principal investigator: Fallon R. Goodman, College of Arts & Sciences and Director of the Emotion and Resilience Laboratory.
- Hurricane shelter operations during a pandemic: This research will outline key considerations for sheltering and evacuation in the era of COVID-19. The potential risk of COVID-19 infections spreading among shelter residents and between shelter residents and staff increases with proximity. The researchers plan to address these complex concerns by conducting a gap analysis of current shelter plans and available resources that meet national guidelines and best practices. Principal investigator: Jennifer Marshall, College of Public Health.
A full list of the 14 interdisciplinary projects, selected from a field of more than 125 proposals submitted by USF researchers, is available here.
The grants are part of the Pandemic Response Research Network™ recently launched at USF, an interdisciplinary collaboration of its leading scientists whose research addresses the issues surrounding pandemics and to organize USF resources to ensure that research and innovation related to COVID-19 was targeted, efficient and effective.
About the University of South Florida
The University of South Florida is a high-impact global research university dedicated to student success. Over the past 10 years, no other public university in the country has risen faster in U.S. News and World Report’s national university rankings than USF. Serving more than 50,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg and Sarasota-Manatee, USF is designated as a Preeminent State Research University by the Florida Board of Governors, placing it in the most elite category among the state’s 12 public universities. USF has earned widespread national recognition for its success graduating under-represented minority and limited-income students at rates equal to or higher than white and higher income students. USF is a member of the American Athletic Conference. Learn more at www.usf.edu.