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Rapid Response Grants Program Explores Treatment, Technologies from Multiple Angles


Illustration of contact tracing on cell phone

[Illustration: iStock, Bill Oxford]

USF has invested nearly $340,000 in a new Rapid Response Research Grants program that seeks to address the pandemic by exploring potential treatments for COVID-19 infections, developing new technologies to help prevent the virus’ spread, launching efforts to protect public safety and managing the emotional impacts of the virus. Funding from the Florida High Tech Corridor Council also will support some of these projects.

Among the projects:

  • Antibodies and immunity: This project is exploring 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 is attempting 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: Dr. 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.

  • 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 online at USF Research News.