Rapid Response COVID Pilot Awards at Case Western Reserve University

  • August 15, 2020

This article originally was posted on July 29, 2020 and featured in the August 2020 Clinical and Translational Science Collaborative (CTSC) newsletter. It is posted here with the permission of the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine.]

In response to the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic, over 250 Case Western Reserve University faculty teamed up to form the COVID Research Taskforce, under the direction of Dr. Jonathan Karn and Dr. Nora Singer, one of the co-leads of the CTSC of Cleveland’s Hub Research Capacity component. “The goal of this university-wide initiative is to attack the pandemic from many sides,” said Singer, “addressing a wide range of COVID-related questions including understanding and advancing knowledge on fundamental virology and immunology of SARS-CoV-2; barriers and challenges in testing, tracing, diagnosis and treatment; impact of the pandemic on vulnerable populations, including essential workers, and impact on physical and mental health of the community; ensuring that we do important studies to treat and prevent the biological and psychosocial ramifications of COVID-19 and its aftermath.”

To support this effort, the Taskforce, with support from the CTSC of Cleveland and six other funding groups across campus, created a Rapid-Response COVID-19 Pilot Award to support new research initiatives that will make immediate progress towards reducing the harm to individuals, groups, and society from SARS-CoV-2 and the COVID-19 pandemic. Elaine Borawski, PhD, faculty lead of the CTSC Community and Collaboration component and her team coordinated the submission, review, and selection process on behalf of the Taskforce through InfoReady. 18 pilot projects from a pool of 48 were awarded within a one-month timeframe of submission.


“We knew from the beginning this would be a herculean task to coordinate in such a short period of time, but the InfoReady Multi-Track template allowed us to treat each funding group as a separate track, each with specific requirements and reviewers, while at the same time, maintaining a standardized, coordinated approach across all the whole pilot program. And now, we will continue using the system for tracking the progress through the internal reporting mechanism. We are grateful for the tremendous support we received from the IR technical support group. They were with us every step of the way,” said Elaine Borawski, PhD.

Together the seven funding partners awarded over $500,000 to fund 18 research pilot projects ranging from understanding lung immunity after COVID-19 and the role of glycemic control in COVID-19 disease severity, to developing new diagnostic methods and devices, to understanding neighborhood-level vulnerabilities and risks and the impact of COVID-19 on cancer patients.

The CTSC of Cleveland funded the following 5 projects, and co-sponsored one additional project with the CWRU Swetland Center for Environmental Health:

Addressing ethical, social, and regulatory issues in research during the COVID-19 pandemic

Awardee: Daniel Tisch and Aaron Goldenberg (Co-PI), Departments of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences and Bioethics, CWRU School of Medicine

Proposal: “Research during the COVID-19 raises new ethical, social, and regulatory questions for researchers and participants. Our goal is to advance COVID-19 research ethics through engagement with stakeholders and the creation of regulatory guidance resources to support research during pandemics.

“This project bridges regulatory bodies (IRBs, public health departments, clinical care, and the research community) to promote an ‘ethical and socially grounded’ translational pipeline for COVID research.”

Investigate team winners collage #1 

Determining the diagnostic and prognostic value of underlying cutaneous disease and cutaneous eruptions in patients with COVID-19

 Awardee: Anthony Fernandez and Christine McDonald (Co-PI), Department of Inflammation and Immunity, Cleveland Clinic
Proposal: “Skin manifestations of viral illnesses are common, and are sometimes used to identify infection or predict disease outcomes. Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, a variety of rashes in affected patients have been described.

“Given that skin rashes can be easily identified visually and immediately acted upon, this study will define features of COVID-19 skin conditions using patient samples and determine their utility to define disease onset or predict disease outcomes in COVID-19 patients.”


Neighborhood context of social vulnerability and perceptions of COVID-specific risk and prevention

Awardee: Elaine Borawski and Janet McGrath (Co-PI), Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, CWRU School of Medicine; Department of Anthropology, College of Arts and Sciences

Proposal: “The COVID pandemic has reinforced the importance of location and neighborhood context on health and well-being. Combining neighborhood data and local input, this interdisciplinary project will enhance understanding of the role of place in COVID risk perceptions and behaviors.

“The pilot leverages mixed-methods to create a rich contextualized dataset to better inform public health messaging and interventional efforts to address the disproportionate impacts of COVID among vulnerable neighborhoods.”

Investigative team collage winners #2 

Glycemic control and COVID-19 disease severity among patients with chronic kidney disease

 Awardee: William Bush (PI), Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences, CWRU School of Medicine

Proposal: “Recent reports suggest that COVID-19 patients who cannot control their blood sugar have worse disease than those with controlled blood sugar. The relationship between blood sugar control and COVID-19 has not been examined in the United States.

“We will examine this relationship in Cleveland patients with chronic kidney disease, many of whom have or are at great risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This study may help physicians predict which patients will need extra care when they have COVID-19.”

Investigative team collage winners #3 

COVID-19 associated coagulopathy—developing a Point-of-Care Device for Diagnosis

Awardee: Lalitha Nayak (PI), Department of Medicine, School of Medicine; Case Comprehensive Cancer Center

Proposal: “COVID-19 portends a high risk for blood clots, a major cause of severe disease and death. While monitoring the coagulation status is crucial, presently used assays take time and a significant amount of blood. Our novel point-of-care device uses miniscule quantities of blood to rapidly assess coagulation abnormalities at the bedside.

“We propose to optimize this device so that it can be used specifically in this unique coagulopathy and guide timely intervention in these critically ill patients.”
Investigative team winners collage  #4

Understanding the behaviors of dental aerosol flume and engineering effective capture system for COVID-19 risk mitigation (co-funded by the CTSC of Cleveland and the Swetland Center for Environmental Health)


Awardee: Bill Yu and Fabio Piola Rizzante (Co-PI), Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Case School of Engineering; Department of Comprehensive Care, CWRU School of Medicine

Proposal: “Dental treatment procedures produce high-speed dental aerosols, which can carry COVID-19 and possess a major threat to the health of dentists, staff and patients. This collaboration involving engineers and dental clinician will conduct pilot study to understand the behaviors of dental aerosol flume and its interactions with engineered surfaces.
“From these, solutions will be developed to effective capture and sanitize dental aerosols and mitigate the risk of COVID-19 at dental clinics." 
“The CTSC was pleased to both support and coordinate the Taskforce’s city-wide effort to address the challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic”, said Dr. Michael Konstan, Principal Investigator of the CTSC of Cleveland.
The Taskforce welcomes inquiries or SARS-CoV-2 research related questions at SOMCOVID19@case.edu.


Find the original article here.

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