USF supports COVID-19 research partnerships with new seed grants

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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.

The newly funded projects from the third round include:

  • Mental Distress Among COVID-19 Responders: 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. Principal Investigators – Dr.  Kristin Kosyluk and Dr. Jerome Galea, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences. Co-Principal Investigators – Dr. Patricia Emmanuel, Morsani College of Medicine; Dr. Jerome Galea, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Dr. Lucy Guerra, Morsani College of Medicine; Dr. Kathleen Heide, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Dr. Giti Javidi, Muma College of Business, Sarasota-Manatee; Dr. Ming Ji, College of Nursing; Dr. Daniel Majchrzak, Information Technology Tampa; Dr. Stephanie Marhefka-Day, College of Public Health; Dr. Kathleen Moore, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Dr. Tempestt Neal, College of Engineering; Dr.Asa Oxner, Morsani College of Medicine; Dr. Alison Salloum, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Dr. Ehsan Sheybani, Sarasota-Manatee; Dr. Charurut Somboonwit, Morsani College of Medicine. Partners – Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network and others.
  • Impact of COVID-19 on the Management of Type 2 Diabetes: 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 the 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. Principal Investigator – Dr. Nancy Romero-Daza, Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences. Co-Principal InvestigatorsDr. Heewon Gray, College of Public Health, Dr. David Himmelgreen, College of Arts and Sciences, Dr. Usha Menon, College of Nursing, and Dr. Jane Norman, Morsani College of Medicine. Partners – Feeding Tampa Bay and Community Health Centers of Pinellas.
  • COVID-19 Integrated Contagion Modeling for Community Policy and Governance – The project proposed seeks the development of agent-based models that capture the complex interactions between spatial risk factors, social contact networks and host mobility on CIOVID-19 infection propagation in various settings. This project will contribute to addressing COVID 19 prediction and prevention. Principal Investigator Dr. Thomas Unnasch, College of Public Health. Co-Principal Investigators – Dr. Lori Collins, Tampa Campus Library; Dr. Wolfgang Jank, Muma College of Business; Dr. Edwin Michael, College of Public Health; Dr. Matthew Mullarkey, Muma College of Business. Partner – Tampa Bay Partnership.
  • Spatial-Temporal Prediction Models for COVID-19 – This proposal seeks to develop spatial-temporal prediction models using big data including COVID 19 data, temperature, airline flights, social distancing, Twitter, and mobility to improve prediction outcomes. Principal Investigator – Dr. Ming Ji, College of Nursing. Co-Principal Investigators – Dr. Ryan Carney, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Russell Kirby, College of Public Health; Dr. Rao Tao, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Chii-Dean Lin, San Diego State University. Partners– Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Florida Department of Health
  • A Decentralized Digital ID for Pandemics – This proposal seeks to apply secure decentralized Digital Identity systems to three essential services during pandemics (patient health care, necessary goods, and proof of immunity) to improve long-term public health consequences of the pandemic. Principal Investigator – Dr. Shivendu Shivendu, Muma College of Business. Co-Principal Investigators – Dr. Jean-Francois Biasse, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Kyaien Conner, College of Behavioral and Community Sciences; Dr. Donna Davis, Muma College of Business; Dr. Loni Hagen, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. Robert Hooker, Muma College of Business; Dr. Marissa Levine, College of Public Health; Dean Moez Limayem, Muma College Business; Dr. Attila Yavuz, College of Engineering.
  • Optimizing the Allocation of COVID-19 Testing & Vaccine Resources in Florida – The aim of the proposed project is to optimize site testing strategies based upon mathematical modeling and using various inputs relating to population densities, testing capabilities, etc and including an inequality factor. The model will optimize based to give increase in accessibility per person based upon available funding. The model has been previously employed by the PI with encouraging results. Principal Investigator – Dr. Ran Tao, School of Geosciences. Co-Principal Investigators – Dr. Theresa Beckie, College of Nursing; Dr. Elizabeth Dunn, College of Public Health; Dr. Joni Firat, College of Arts and Sciences; Dr. He Zhang, Muma College of Business. Partner – Florida Department of Health.

A full list of the 14 third round interdisciplinary projects can be found here.

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.

Reposted from USF Newsroom