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Final round of COVID-19 seed funding supports 11 new projects

New research includes vaccine programs, mental health and history lessons

The Ohio State University’s Office of Research announced details of the final round of funding to boost research in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Eleven additional projects were awarded funding for a total of $310,000. Through three rounds of funding, 24 projects were awarded over $770,000 from the Office of Research.

Natalia Higuita-Castro, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the lead investigator for one of the round-three projects. Her research will use next-generation nanocarriers based on engineered extracellular vesicles (EVs) to deliver anti-inflammatory therapies to lungs injured by the novel coronavirus.

“The gold standard is nature. As an engineer, rather than reinventing the wheel, I try to learn from nature,” she said. “Nature has this amazing method to produce these nanocarriers and what we do in my lab is to use nanotechnology to engineer them to deliver specific molecular cargo to the inflamed lung.”

Higuita-Castro, member of the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at the Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, is working with her collaborators on a treatment for COVID-19-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a life-threatening condition characterized by severe inflammation and damage of the lungs that can eventually lead to respiratory failure.

The therapy Higuita-Castro is developing will be designed to decrease the inflammation, giving the patient’s own system a better chance to overcome the infection.

“Your own immune system has to do the work and overcome the infection, but we are shifting that balance from a severe inflammatory state to a more balanced state, to potentially aid faster recovery and reduce lung damage,” she said.

Morley O. Stone, senior vice president for research, said the university’s multidisciplinary approach positions Ohio State to provide innovative solutions to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of Research supported 10 additional projects in the third round of funding:

  • Daniel Strunk, associate professor in the Department of Psychology, is lead investigator for a study that will evaluate health, economic and social stressors associated with COVID-19 and their relation to anxiety and depression over time. The study will examine the use of coping strategies to try to lessen the impact of key stressors on mental health.
  • Abhay Satoskar, professor in the Department of Pathology, is leading an effort to develop a vaccine against COVID-19 with a delivery platform designed to induce a robust immune response and provide longer immunity.
  • Ayaz Hyder, assistant professor in the College of Public Health, will develop data management tools to support agencies and organizations engaged with the Ohio State community in the COVID-19 response.
  • Purnima Dubey, associate professor in the College of Medicine, will test whether a vaccine using a specific region of a SARS-CoV2 protein as the antigen can provoke an immune response in the body.
  • Nicolas Breyfogle, associate professor in the Department of History, will create and share articles, podcasts, videos and lesson plans on the history of pandemics to expand public knowledge and understanding of the current coronavirus pandemic.
  • Prosper Boyaka, professor in the College of Veterinary Medicine, is leading a project to identify an optimal design for SARS-CoV-2 injected vaccines that use the chemical compound alum to enhance the body’s immune response to an antigen.
  • Carlos Castro, associate professor in College of Engineering, is part of a team working to develop a rapid COVID-19 diagnostic assay that uses folded DNA nanostructures to bind to an RNA sequence contained in the COVID-19 genome.
  • Glenn Martinez, professor of Hispanic Linguistics, will inventory and assess sources, trust, satisfaction and comprehension of COVID-19 information by Spanish speakers in Columbus.
  • Dan Shu, associate professor in the College of Pharmacy, is leading a project to develop a rapid, convenient and low-cost alternative for the early diagnosis of COVID-19 through the detection of the SARS-CoV-2 antigen.
  • Richard Petty, professor in the Department of Psychology, will lead an interdisciplinary collaboration to study ways to enhance compliance with COVID-19 guidance, such as mask wearing and social distancing.

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