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USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants

USF supports COVID-19 research partnerships with new seed grants

Projects link USF faculty researchers with community organizations, companies to implement discoveries and innovations.

TAMPA, Fla. (Sept. 2, 2020) – The University of South Florida will provide seed funding to 14 new research projects designed to address the medical, technological and societal issues of COVID-19. This brings the total of institutional resources invested into pandemic research to more than $1 million.

This third round of funding is unique because researchers were challenged to forge partnerships with community organizations and corporations, so that their projects could more rapidly be put to real-world use. USF Research & Innovation is investing nearly $320,000 in the projects, with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council contributing $100,000 in support of five projects.

"Each of these projects tackles a specific shortcoming in the world’s ability to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic and works to find a creative, innovative or inventive solution that can move from lab to market quickly," said Dr. Paul Sanberg, USF’s senior vice president for research, innovation & knowledge enterprise.

"We are proud of how the USF research community has responded to these challenges, and the many ways our faculty and students have worked to help the most vulnerable in our society by working collaboratively across disciplines and beyond the walls of our university with community and corporate partners."

Since April, USF researchers have embarked on 42 separate COVID-19 projects supported through the university’s Rapid Response Research Grant Program. More than 450 USF scientists, engineers, inventors and innovators from multiple disciplines and across all three campuses are working through the USF Pandemic Response Research Network™ to create a cohesive, transdisciplinary approach to addressing the pandemic from medical, social, environmental and economic angles.

In all, the effort has represented an extraordinary joining of institutional, community and private sector resources to combat the COVID-19 outbreak and future pandemics. In addition to the more than $1 million invested, university researchers and 26 separate external partners have contributed another $436,000 in both in-kind support and research dollars.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

For more detail on USF's research response to COVID-19, visit the Pandemic Response Research Network™.

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.

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