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USF Supports COVID-19 Research Partnerships in New Round of Seed Grants

The newly funded projects from the third round of USF’s Rapid Response Research Grant program are:

1. Exploring the Gut Microbiome in SARS-CoV-2 Infection Across Pregnancy

PI: Dr. Tara Randis, Morsani College of Medicine, and Dr. Maureen Groer, College of Nursing
Partners: Notitia Biotechnologies Company (Highland, Utah) and Genalyte (San Diego)

A research team that draws expertise from USF Health’s Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology and Department of Pediatrics will explore the impact of SARS-CoV-2 in causing difficulties and poor outcomes in pregnant women. The researchers are working to develop a pregnant mouse model that closely resembles the human COVID-19 infection. The team will evaluate the efficacy of a dietary invention that enhances gut bacteria that improves metabolic diseases that have harmed pregnant women and their babies.


2. Optimizing the Allocation of COVID-19 Testing & Vaccine Resources in Florida

PI: Dr. Ran Tao, School of Geosciences
Partner: Florida Department of Health

Rapid testing for SARS-CoV-2 nucleic acid or antigen is crucial to halting the spread of the disease, but a preliminary study from the research group has determined that many Floridians face disadvantages in having access to the testing sites due to being rural residents, without transportation, or who are elderly and housebound. The project will develop a mathematical model to optimize the allocation of COVID-19 testing resources to maximize the increase of accessibility to testing. The researchers will work with the Florida Department of Health and local emergency planners to create a model that maximizes access and cost efficiency. The model also will serve as an allocation model when a vaccine is available.


3. COVID-19 Animal Model Resource Development for Microbiome & Intervention Studies

PI: Dr. Christian Brechot and Dr. Shyam S Mohapatra, Morsani College of Medicine
Partners: Persephone Biosciences Inc. (San Diego), Mirror Biologics (Phoenix), Venn Therapeutics (Tampa) and Ibis Therapeutics (Tampa)

The proposal would develop preclinical models for use in Biosafety Level 3 and Animal Biological Safety Level 3 facilities at USF that would allow researchers to work on infectious agents with the highest level of safety and security standards and practices. The development of this unique resource will support pre-clinical translational research on COVID-19, including the development of new probiotics, vaccines and therapies.


4. Impact of COVID-19 on The Management of Type 2 Diabetes Among Older Individuals: Food Insecurity, Decreased Physical Activity, and Social Isolation

PI: Dr. Nancy Romero-Daza, Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences
Partner: Feeding Tampa Bay and Community Health Centers of Pinellas

The proposed project seeks to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on the health and well-being of older adults with type 2 diabetes. This group is one of the most vulnerable to the effects of the pandemic, as it experiences more severe symptoms, faster deterioration, and higher mortality than other populations. COVID-19 restrictions have increased rates of food insecurity, social isolation and sedentary behaviors, making it difficult for some to manage their type 2 diabetes and further increasing risk for health complications. The year-long project seeks to determine the feasibility and effectiveness of delivering self-management education along with healthy foods to a sample group of 80 adults over the age of 50 with type 2 diabetes.


5. A Decentralized Digital ID for Pandemics

PI: Dr. Shivendu Shivendu, Muma College of Business
Partner: BlockSpaces (Tampa)

The proposed project supports the development of a secure decentralized system using blockchain technology to provide essential services during pandemics such as access to reliable information, optimal patient care, essential goods, and privacy-preserving proofs of immunity, and immutable proof of COVID-19 tests.


6. Portable system for COVID-19 antibody testing based on Mobile ELISA, Deep Learning and AI

PI: Dr. Anna Pyayt, College of Engineering
Partner: AWS (Amazon Web Services) Diagnostic Development Initiative

Rapid antibody tests are fast but have limited accuracy and use. To increase testing capacity, this research project proposes creating a small portable system that can be placed in urgent care facilities and accurately measure the level of COVID-19 antibodies in blood. The researchers propose redesigning the current ELISA (enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay) technology used in large labs into a portable, low-cost platform and use it to measure concentration of COVID-19 antibodies, which gives health care providers deeper insight into the disease.


7. Bending the Mental Distress Curve Among COVID-19 Responders: A Pilot Feasibility Study

PI: Dr. Kristin Kosyluk and Dr. Jerome Galea, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences
Partners: Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, West Central Florida Mental Wellness Coalition, This is My Brave, National Alliance on Mental Illness Hillsborough, Cope Notes, Morsani College of Medicine and the USF Counseling Center

Half of U.S. adults already report pandemic-related mental health problems, especially anxiety and depression. Frontline pandemic responders — doctors, nurses, paramedics, police, social workers — are especially vulnerable and often forgo mental health care because of stigma and fear of job loss. Several evidence-based mental health interventions exist but linking those in need to the right intervention at the right time is often complicated, delaying needed care. Researchers and their partners will develop and pilot-test a chatbot, “TABATHA” (Tampa Bay Area Treatment & Health Advisor) capable of screening pandemic responders for levels of distress and service preferences using text messages and helping them navigate existing mental health services.


8. COVID-19 Integrated Contagion Modeling for Community Policy and Governance

PI: Dr. Thomas Unnasch, College of Public Health
Partners: Tampa Bay Partnership, USF Executive Policy Group (EPG) and the Health Care Systems Surge Planning Group

This project brings together diverse data sources and expertise to develop a mathematical model that will combine viral transmission dynamics with the characteristics of individuals that interact over a real location to accurately predict the course of COVID-19 outbreaks. The proposed agent-based model is designed to better capture the impacts of the interactions that occur between important spatial risk factors, social contact networks, social behavior and host mobility on infection spread and control in various settings.


9. Spatial-Temporal Prediction Models for COVID-19

PI: Dr. Ming Ji, College of Nursing
Partners: 1point3acres.com and The Wilson Center

This study is aimed to develop spatial-temporal prediction models of daily new cases and daily numbers of deaths due to COVID-19. The strength of the proposed model is that it incorporates the complex spatial correlations among different locations (counties/cities/census tracts) to improve its temporal predictions. This allows the prediction model to be quickly estimated from limited data which is extremely helpful at the early stage of a new disease outbreak. The long-term goal of the project is to build a generic system for detection and prediction of new disease outbreaks that will contribute to public health to fight against future new pandemics.


10. Relationships Between Air Quality, Health Outcomes, and Socioeconomic Impacts of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Florida

PI: Dr. Yasin Elshorbany, School of Geosciences, College of Arts & Sciences
Partner: Lealman Innovation Academy

The research team will investigate changes in air quality, health factors and the broader societal impacts associated with COVID-19 pandemic. The project will use data from ground monitoring stations in different locations around Florida, as well as remote sensing products to examine how the pandemic has altered the environment. The researchers also will examine intricate and disparate health impacts related to air quality that have emerged from the pandemic. For example, wearing a face mask to avoid COVID-19 infection may also decrease hospital admissions related to other respiratory infections, such as asthma. The team will collaborate with the Lealman Innovation Academy (grades 9-12) in collecting and interpreting the data.


11. Restaurant Resiliency Through Digital Communication and Ordering Channels During COVID-19

PI: Dr. Mark Bender, Muma College of Business
Partners: Carrabba’s Italian Grill and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association

The project will evaluate the resiliency of local service businesses during COVID-19, using restaurants in the Tampa Bay area as case studies. As the COVID-19 pandemic progressed, the service industry had to utilize and adopt digital communication and ordering channels to remain in contact with and continue to serve consumers. At the same time, consumers were changing their behavior by spending more time and money online. The researchers hope to identify geographic and restaurant-specific factors that may help restaurants survive the ongoing pandemic.


12. Tri-modal nanopore sensors for rapid amplification-free DNA/RNA sequencing and testing of COVID-19/SARS-CoV-2 and future emerging pathogens

PI: Dr. Michael Cai Wang, College of Engineering
Partner: Ocean Insight (Largo)

The project proposes the development of a new nucleic acid sequencing mechanism for rapid testing of SARS-CoV-2, as well as potential future pathogens. The current “gold standard” of PCR-based testing for COVID-19 is precise, but it is still hampered by the logistical challenges of sample collection, transportation, and analysis. The proposed system would use atomic-scale 2D membranes less than 1/100 the size of the SARS-CoV-2 virus for sensing DNA/RNA to create rapid tests for the current outbreak as well as future threats.


13. Feasibility Study for Establishing a USF Sensor System Facility to Address COVID-19, Future Pandemics, and Global Ecosystems

PI: Dr. Jose Zayas-Castro, College of Engineering
Partner: Global ETS (Odessa, FL)

Systems comprised of multi-functional sensors are leading the way in medical, environmental, automotive, marine, military, aerospace and technical arenas. The university is poised to be an epicenter for collecting, mining, analyzing and reporting sensor data through a proposed USF Sensor Systems Facility. The proposed facility will build collaborations and partnerships for prototyping and testing scaled-up sensors and sensor systems. This proposal leverages the work that researchers are conducting to address the COVID-19 pandemic and strategically uses this research to position USF to be on the forefront of sensing the next pandemic.


14. Pulmonary Rehabilitation for Patients with Respiratory Comorbidity Recovering From COVID-19

PI: Dr. Constance Visovsky and Dr. Andrew Bugajski, College of Nursing
Partner: Tampa General Hospital

Hospitalized patients recovering from COVID-19 have a significant risk of continued pulmonary complications including persistent inflammation and reduced lung function. Since antibody protection from secondary infection remains uncertain, patients with preexisting conditions are at extremely high risk for re-infection or post-recovery complications. The project will explore a home-based rehabilitation program for patients with pulmonary conditions recovering from COVID-19.

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