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 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.
A total of $344,855 will support this new round of research projects — the second such investment made by the university since April. USF is partnering with the Florida High Tech Corridor Council which is contributing $100,000 in support of five of the proposals which have the potential for technology commercialization.
The grants come under the auspices 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, social issues, coupled with USF's capabilities in technology transfer, commercialization and corporate partnerships.
Faculty from nine colleges spanning USF Tampa, USF St. Petersburg and USF Sarasota-Manatee are part of 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.
This latest round of funding brings the total investment from the USF COVID-19 Rapid Response Grant program to nearly $685,000.
"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."
The newly funded projects are:
- Plasmonic-PECO Integrated with Mask/Respirator/Ventilator for Protection Against COVID-19
PI: Dr. Yogi Goswami, USF College of Engineering
Dr. Goswami is the inventor of Photo-electrochemical oxidation (PECO) technology, which destroys viruses and bioaerosols in the air. He has now invented a wearable device that can be integrated into a mask, respirator or ventilator.
- Dispersion Modeling of Respiratory Aerosols and COVID-19 Infection Risk Analysis in Airport Terminals
PI: Dr. Andres Tejada-Martinez, College of Engineering
A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that the virus that leads to COVID-19 remains viable in aerosols for up to three hours after emission, and that asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can transmit the virus through breathing and speaking. A computational framework will be developed consisting of aerosol dispersion modeling validated against physical laboratory experiments and combined with infection risk analysis in common spaces. The framework will be applied to determine probabilities of aerosol transmission of COVID-19 in airport terminals.
- Magic Bullet Antivirals for Prevention of COVID-19
PI: Dr. Shyam Mohapatra, Morsani College of Medicine and Taneja College of Pharmacy
The 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.
- Targeting Phosphatidylserine Exposure and Phospholipid Scramblase Activity to COVID-19 Infections
PI: Dr. Meera Nanjundan, College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Cell Biology, Microbiology and Molecular Biology
The goal of this project is to determine whether the externalized phosphatidylserine — a lipid component of the cell membrane — on the surface of SARS-CoV-2 is a viable target for protecting against infections. The research team will investigate the anti-viral effectiveness of agents targeting phosphatidylserine and its metabolic pathways.
- Real-Time Monitoring of COVID-19 Progress Using Magnetic Sensing and Machine Learning
PI: Dr. Manh-Huong Phan, College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Physics
A research group that draws expertise from the fields of sensor technology development, medical analytics and modeling, and cancer and virus research is seeking to develop ultra-sensitive magnetic sensor technology coupled with machine learning to create a contactless diagnostic device that can sense the breathing patterns of COVID-19 patients at multiple stages of disease. The system would provide crucial, real-time information to doctors on the growth rate of the virus in an infected patient and assist in clinical decision-making through the use of predictive analytics.
- Exploring Racial Disparities in the Treatment, Perceptions, and Tracking of COVID-19 Through Automated Stigma Detection and Sentiment Analysis of Social Media Data
PI: Dr. Tempestt Neal, College of Engineering
This project is an interdisciplinary collaboration between the USF's departments of Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, and Mental Health Law & Policy, where faculty members have expertise in text analytics, writer demographics, topical profiling, and thematic coding. The 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.
- Antiviral Impermeable Polyimide-Polyurea Films and Nanomembranes for Coating PPE and Packaging: COVID-19
PI: Dr. Sylvia Thomas, College of Engineering
This project will work to develop new antiviral films and coatings that could be used on personal protective equipment and product packaging to stem the spread of the virus. The team will investigate antiviral impermeable polyimide-polyurea film and nanomembrane coatings. Research has shown that polymers can be imbued with antiviral properties through the incorporation of antiviral drugs and/or components and metal (silver and copper) nanoparticles.
- Wearable COVID Diagnostic Device with Machine Learned Physiological Signatures
PI: Dr. Matthew Mullarkey, Muma College of Business
A transdisciplinary collaboration between USF Health, USF Morsani College of Medicine, USF Muma College of Business 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 (CPS) Pre/Early Symptomatic Detection Platform (SPD) 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. The platform will incorporate machine learning to compare COVID Physiological Signatures over time to build diagnostic and treatment protocols involving various combinations of measured physiological factors.
- Contact Tracing of Ships and Seaports in Florida
PI: Dr. Mark Luther, College of Marine Science
A team from the College of Marine Science and the Department of Integrative Biology will explore the role of the maritime industry in the spread of COVID-19. The global shipping industry has been recognized by scientists as a vector for pathogen transmission that should be included in epidemiological models. While the role of air traffic and cruise ships in COVID-19 transmission has been evident as the pandemic unfolded, USF researchers say the potential role of maritime transport is unknown and unstudied. This project will produce one of the first interfaces between maritime traffic data and epidemiological models.
- Isolated and Safe? Analysis of the Mental Health Impacts of COVID19 on Detained Youth
PI: Dr. Joan Reid, USFSP College of Arts & Sciences, Department of Society, Culture & Language
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice coordinated a comprehensive response to keep all youth and staff safe that included suspending visitations, limiting social interaction between youth in custody, distance learning, and social distancing between youth and staff at facilities. USF researchers will conduct a year-long study of DJJ documented mental health crises, suicidal ideation, suicide attempts and completions, behavioral outbursts, and fights or physical altercations between youth and/or staff to fully determine how the pandemic affected youth in the system.
- COVID-19 Economic Recovery Markers from Satellite Imagery for City-Scale Decisions
PI: Dr. Sudeep Sarkar, College of Engineering
A transdisciplinary 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.
- Mathematics and Science Teaching and Learning of COVID-19 Public Health Issues in eLearning Environments
PI: Dr. Allan Feldman, College of Education
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.
- Detrimental Effects of Hyperoxia on COVID-19 Infected Mice Model
PI: Dr. Siva Panguluri, Taneja College of Pharmacy
Existing data on SARS-Cov-2 patients indicates an association of mechanical ventilation with the increasing death rates. USF researchers will investigate whether these high mortality rates are due to the viral infection or a condition called hyperoxia, where an excessive oxygen supply can cause heart damage. The study will determine how COVID-19 affects heart function and whether hyperoxia during mechanical ventilator treatment for COVID-19 exasperates further damage.
- Motivating At-Risk Populations' Return to Healthcare Facilities and Services Through Emotive Messaging
PI: Dr. Kimberly Walker, College of Arts & Sciences, Zimmerman School of Advertising and Mass Communications
Conflicting information on how to best stay safe during the pandemic has led to fear and uncertainty about which sources and recommendations to follow. 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 healthcare 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 healthcare.
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.