Fourteen new projects will address global issues from infection detection to public perception of virus danger.
TAMPA, Fla. (May 29, 2020) – The University of South Florida’s COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants program is investing in 14 additional faculty research projects that would advance new medical interventions to detect and stop infections, develop innovations in personal protective equipment, and address fear and confusion in communities particularly vulnerable to the virus.
Nearly $350,000 will support this new round of research projects – the second such investment made by the university since the start of the pandemic. USF is partnering with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council, which is contributing $100,000 in support of five of the proposals that have the potential for technology commercialization.
Faculty from all three USF campuses are included in the latest funding round designed to kick-start projects that would last six months to a year. In April, USF issued a first round of grants to 14 other short-term projects now underway.
“The shock and devastation of the pandemic has inspired USF researchers to dig deep in thinking of new ways to keep us safer and healthier in the future,” said Dr. Paul R. Sanberg, USF’s senior vice president for research, innovation & knowledge enterprise. “They are applying the best of their expertise, ability and creativity to this cause, while working in partnership with private companies and public agencies to bring these projects to fruition.”
Projects selected for the second round of funding include:
- Antiviral nasal spray: This project would develop a proprietary nanomaterial recently discovered by the research team for the treatment of the common and highly contagious Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which often strikes very young children, for the treatment of COVID-19. Like RSV, the novel coronavirus lands on the nasal mucous membrane. The researchers are working to create a spray that neutralizes the virus and inhibits viral replication. Principal investigator – Dr. Shyam Mohapatra, Morsani College of Medicine and College of Public Health.
- Exploring racial disparities: Researchers will extract and study discussions on COVID-19 in the African-American community with the goal of understanding how personal experiences and stigma shape and impact understanding and perceptions of the disease. Social media trend analysis has been cited as an effective methodology for flagging, tracking, alerting and educating communities regarding the spread of a disease. The researchers are designing a machine learning tool capable of analyzing the estimated 1.64 billion tweets posted daily by African American Twitter users. Principal investigator – Dr. Tempestt Neal, College of Engineering.
- Wearable diagnostic device: USF and the global wireless wearable sensor company Shimmer will conduct a pilot study of minimally invasive wearable diagnostic devices. The USF-Shimmer COVID Physiological Signature Pre/Early Symptomatic Detection Platform offers patients a medical-grade monitor capable of measuring physiological progression of the virus in asymptomatic individuals to provide for early detection of infection. The technology alerts the patient and medical staff to failing physiological conditions in advance of the full onset of observable symptoms. Principal investigator – Dr. Matthew Mullarkey, Muma College of Business.
- Economic recovery markers from satellite imagery: A team from USF, the University of California, Berkeley, and the global satellite company Maxar Technologies based in Colorado, is collaborating to develop a new tool that would provide insight into economic activity and recovery. The project would develop economic trend forecasts based on satellite images taken at regular intervals and augmented with information from other sources such as community mobility data, flight tracker data and railway tracking data. Satellite imagery can support analysts and policymakers’ decision-making by providing a different kind of visibility into the unfolding economic changes that are not captured by other data sources, the researchers said. Principal investigator – Dr. Sudeep Sarkar, College of Engineering.
- Mathematics and science teaching and learning: This project will engage Hillsborough County Public School middle school math and science teachers to develop methods and materials on public health issues and students’ ability to serve their communities as COVID-19 public health ambassadors. The project aims to use the context of the pandemic to help students gain an understanding of the transdisciplinary nature of public health crises, recognize the power of mathematics and science in response to these crises, and learn to think in terms of interconnected systems and appreciate the dynamic nature of such events. Principal investigator – Dr. Alan Feldman, College of Education.
- Messaging to at-risk populations: Researchers will study messaging strategies to encourage those most at risk for COVID-19 complications due to underlying chronic illnesses ─ such as diabetes, heart disease, asthma and demographic disparities ─ to reinstate routine medical care or seek treatment at health care facilities. The research team will use a novel physiological methodology to test emotional responses to COVID-19 prevention messages on mask wearing, handwashing and social distancing to recommend language, framing, spokesperson, and image strategies that will best motivate at-risk populations to seek routine health care. Principal investigator – Dr. Kimberly Walker, College of Arts & Sciences, Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications.
A full list of the 14 second round interdisciplinary projects can be found here.
The grants are part of the USF Pandemic Response Research Network™ ─ a transdisciplinary initiative organized by university leadership and faculty researchers to quickly respond to current and future pandemics. The network draws on the university’s broad range of expertise on a range of health, environmental and social issues, coupled with USF’s capabilities in technology transfer, commercialization and corporate partnerships.
This latest round of funding brings the total investment from the USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program to nearly $685,000.
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.