Interdisciplinary research grants foster new partnerships at UTA

The University of Texas at Arlington has awarded research grants to interdisciplinary teams focusing on key areas related to health communication, medical technology and cognitive processes.

The Interdisciplinary Research Program (IRP) began in 2015 to catalyze research collaborations across academic disciplines in alignment with the University’s strategic research areas: health and the human condition, sustainable communities, global environmental impact, data-driven discovery and culture and societal transformations.

A lab in the SEIR building.
A lab in the SEIR building.

The program is a flagship initiative of the Office of Research to strengthen the University’s research capacity and foster new collaborations among faculty who don’t typically work together.

“The Office of Research is proud to support the foundational investigations of these exciting interdisciplinary projects,” said James P. Grover, UTA’s interim vice president for research. “This year’s winning proposals represent the complexity and magnitude of the University’s research capacity.”

Each team received $20,000 to support data collection, skill building and the development of competitive proposals for external funding. The funded projects for 2022 are:

Navigating a cancer journey at work: An eLearning intervention to improve breast cancer patients’ disclosure practices

• Grace Ellen Brannon, assistant professor of communication

• Wendy Casper, Peggy E. Swanson Endowed Chair of Management and associate dean for research in the College of Business

• Yue Liao, assistant professor of kinesiology

One in eight women living in the United States will develop breast cancer in her lifetime. Many of those face a breast cancer diagnosis during their primary working years, forcing them to manage employment and cancer treatment simultaneously.

Brannon, Casper and Liao will develop eLearning training modules to improve breast cancer patients’ communication practices at work. The team expects the modules to reduce communication apprehension and improve communication efficacy, which will mitigate the effects of breast cancer stigma and increase social support opportunities in the workplace.

Development and pilot testing of an in-home smart cognitive tracking system for older adults by AI-based mobile sensing data fusion

• Chen Kan, assistant professor of industrial, manufacturing, and systems engineering

• Ling Xu, associate professor of social work

• Yingying Zhu, assistant professor of computer science and engineering

Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias (ADRD) has become a public health crisis, given the rapidly aging population in the United States. Current practice of cognitive assessments are clinic-centered and costly, which limits accessibility for older adults, especially for those with low socioeconomic status. The team will develop a new system that integrates mobile sensing and machine learning and allows older adults to assess and track their cognitive condition at home.

“We expect that the proposed system would be effective in collecting and analyzing digital biomarkers from older adults, which could shed light on early detection of ADRD,” Kan said. “It holds great potential to boost the smart management of cognitive health and reduce the risk of ADRD.”

Leveraging multimodal biometric sensing to detect and correct attention and memory failures

• Matthew Robison, assistant professor of psychology

• Ming Li, associate professor of computer science and engineering

• VP Nguyen, assistant professor of computer science and engineering

• Hunter Ball, assistant professor of psychology

Robison, Li, Nguyen and Ball will build a system to simultaneously and synchronously monitor eye movement, heart rate, cerebral blood flow and electrical brain activity to determine which signals might indicate physiological states that lead to memory and/or attention failures. The team’s goal is to determine which physical signals correlate with absentmindedness.

“The knowledge gained could be a helpful tool in catching cognitive impairments and symptoms of neurological disease in its earliest stages,” Robison said. “It could also be used as a tool for preventing cognitive failures in occupations that demand sustained heightened attentiveness, such as air traffic control, luggage screening, lifeguarding and others.”

Novel urinary sensing system for enhancing alcohol-use monitoring and early detection of alcohol-related health effects

• Chueh-Lung Hwang, assistant professor of kinesiology

• Sungyong Jung, associate professor of electrical engineering

• Hyusim Park, postdoctoral researcher in electrical engineering

• Zhaoli Liu, assistant professor of nursing

Harmful and underage college drinking are significant public health problems, according to the National Institutes of Health. Current alcohol-use assessment tools have several limitations. To study the acute effects of alcohol consumption on college students, Hwang, Jung, Park and Liu will develop a portable, sensitive and accurate urinary sensing system.

Label-free sensing and nanosieving to characterize and sort nanopeptide-conjugated/encapsulating liposomes

• Georgios Alexandrakis, associate professor of bioengineering

• He Dong, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry

• Weidong Zhou, distinguished professor of electrical engineering

• Kytai Nguyen, professor of bioengineering

Investigators do not currently have analytical technologies for evaluating the heterogeneity of nanoparticle preparations intended for drug delivery. For example, not all nanoparticles are fully coated on the outside, or fully loaded on the inside, which compromises their efficacy. The team will develop and test a nanosensor technology for evaluating thousands of single nanoparticles, allowing researchers to ensure uniform quality in advance of drug delivery.

“We envisage that this device could be widely adopted in the field of nanomedicine due to its broad potential applicability,” Alexandrakis said.

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