USF supports COVID-19 research partnerships with new seed grants

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:

  • SARS-CoV-2 Impacts in Pregnant Women: 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-CoV2- 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. Principal Investigators – Dr. Tara Randis, Morsani College of Medicine and Dr. Maureen Groer, College of Nursing. Partners: Notitia Biotechnologies Co. (Highland, Utah) and Genalyte (San Diego).
  • 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. Partners – Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, Central Florida Behavioral Health Network and others.
  • Restaurant Resiliency: 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. Principal Investigator – Dr. Mark Bender, Muma College of Business. Partners – Carrabba’s Italian Grill and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
  • 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. Partners – Feeding Tampa Bay and Community Health Centers of Pinellas.
  • Long-Term Pulmonary Impacts From COVID-19: 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. Principal Investigator – Dr. Constance Visovsky, College of Nursing. Partner – Tampa General Hospital.

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.

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