The Ohio State University continues to invest in new research to help battle the COVID-19 pandemic.

Seven projects were awarded a total of $204,000 in the second round of COVID-19 Seed Funding. The Office of Research launched the funding program earlier this month with $263,718 dedicated to six projects in the initial round.

Each of the projects is designed to rapidly address critical health and community problems associated with the pandemic.

“Ohio State, with its multidisciplinary approach, is uniquely positioned to provide innovative solutions to combat the impacts of this global pandemic, and we want to do everything possible to support our outstanding researchers in these efforts,” said Morley O. Stone, senior vice president for research. “With this second round of seed grants, we will advance our understanding of COVID-19, its impacts, and hopefully how to mitigate those impacts.”

Joshua Hawley, director of the Ohio Education Research Center and associate professor in the John Glenn College of Public Affairs, is the lead investigator on a project to develop tools for the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) that will help the state direct resources for school meal programs this summer. These tools will be in the form of maps and possibly a digital dashboard.

“Children experience unemployment with their families. As more people become unemployed, childhood health suffers because families cannot buy food,” Hawley said. “The data tools will help the state build a strong basis for making data-informed decisions about targeting scarce assistance.”

Hawley said ODE reached out to him for ideas on how to target U.S. Department of Agriculture resources from different programs, such as SNAP and School Lunch/Summer Feeding programs.

Ohio State manages the Ohio Longitudinal Data Archive (OLDA), a state collaboration that provides a structure for agencies to receive data such as employment, unemployment and education data. Using data from March and April unemployment insurance claims, the project team has mapped the data to geographic locations and is working to map this information to food bank data.

Researchers hope to learn which school districts have the highest unemployment increases and which districts have high numbers of families getting help from food banks. If they can map where there are gaps in the availability of food and high unemployment, the state can better target federal aid to those most in need.

“This research helps the state government conduct evidence-based policy,” Hawley said. “This kind of research is also intensely practical, demonstrating the important role that university-based researchers can play in making evidence-based policy actionable.”

The project is a collaboration across the university and the state. Support for the research comes from ODE, the Mid-Ohio Food Bank, the Department of Job and Family Services, the Office of Workforce Transformation and the Ohio Geographically Referenced Information Program to geocode the unemployment claims data.

“This project is only possible because the state of Ohio and Ohio State have invested for over 10 years in building the OLDA and the Ohio Analytics partnership,” Hawley said. “This crisis requires collective effort to solve important problems, and the problems are complex and need these relationships between agencies, universities and staff.”

The Office of Research supported five additional projects in the second round of funding:

  • Elizabeth Newton, director of the Ohio State Battelle Center, is lead investigator on a project to examine the risk disinformation presents in the immediate context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • Joseph Bednash, assistant professor in the Division of Pulmonary, Critical Care and Sleep Medicine, is leading a research initiative to establish a biorepository containing samples from patients with severe SARS-CoV-2 infection and Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS). Researchers will examine the differences in the molecular host response in patients with ARDS and COVID-19 infection compared to ARDS from other causes while also identifying key molecular regulators that impact survival outcomes in patients with severe COVID-19 infections.
  • Jacob Yount, associate professor of microbial infection and immunity in the College of Medicine, leads work to develop COVID-19 detection methods in a secure environment and is creating an animal model of COVID-19 to conduct research on the virus and its impacts.
  • Daniel Gingerich, assistant professor in the College of Engineering, is leading a project to quantify employment effects and environmental burdens resulting from investments in infrastructure. The researchers will create an open-source tool enabling rapid assessment of the social benefits of infrastructure expenditures for energy and water systems, including stimulus spending in response to widespread unemployment due to COVID-19.
  • Yongyang Cai, associate professor of agricultural, environmental and development economics, will forecast the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the food and agricultural sectors of Ohio, and also on households during the post-outbreak recovery period through 2050.
  • Scott P Kenney, assistant professor in the College of Food, Agriculture and Environmental Sciences, will test nanoparticle vaccines for their ability to produce protective immune responses using swine as vaccine test candidates.

A third round of funding is expected to be awarded later this week.

Source: Office of Research awards second round of COVID-19 seed funding