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Rapid Response COVID-19 Seed Fund Projects

With generous support from Dr. Jeanne and Rex Sinquefield, the Saint Louis University Research Institute launched a Rapid Response COVID-19 Seed Fund to support faculty-led pilot projects related to coronaviruses and mitigating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The SLU Research Institute designed the Rapid Response COVID-19 Seed Fund to be a flexible source of funding for researchers. The Seed Fund  empowered an interdisciplinary group of 25 researchers as far afield as communication and immunology to provide the knowledge and leadership necessary to navigate this crisis. 

Applications to the Seed Fund are not being accepted right now, though information on the process can be found here. The Research Institute awarded the seed funding in two rounds, one in April 2020 and another in June 2020, for a total of approximately $300,000.

Highlighted Projects

SLU Researchers Develop App to Track COVID-19 Symptoms

My COVID-19 Tracker

As the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the world, researchers pondered the spread of the disease and what the risks of individual and community transmission rates were in various locations. 

To address this, SLU researchers Enbal Shacham, Ph.D., a professor of behavioral science and health education and associate director of the SLU Geospatial Institute (GeoSLU); Flavio Esposito, Ph.D., assistant professor of computer science; and Roberto Coral, a research assistant in computer science, developed an app to monitor real-time symptoms and the location of symptomatic individuals.

“Public health is related to everything, and location determines opportunity and outcomes,” said Shacham. “We can recognize in real-time when people are feeling sick, where they are sick, and how we can get them resources as quickly as possible.”

Read More on This Project


SLU Communication Professor Studying Credibility of COVID-19 Information, Impact on Health Behaviors

Jennifer Ohs teaches in a classroom in Grand Hall

Since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, staying up-to-date with reliable information has become essential. Jennifer Ohs, Ph.D., associate professor of communication, is analyzing how people are getting their information during the pandemic.

“Our study examines how people weigh the credibility of COVID-19 related information and sources, and how those judgments affect their decisions about health behaviors to protect against contracting the disease,” Ohs said. “The knowledge gained from this work may be used by public health officials and other emergency managers to design more effective messages in the fight against COVID-19.”

Read More on this Project


New Study from SLU Psychologist Examines Gambling Addiction During COVID-19

Jeremiah Weinstock

As stay-at-home orders took effect across the country and non-essential businesses closed their doors to the public, Jeremiah Weinstock, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at SLU, wanted to know the long-term effects of social isolation on those suffering from addiction to gambling, clinically known as gambling disorder.

“It’s unclear what happens to [those suffering from gambling disorder] during a period of forced abstinence,” Weinstock said. “It’s a moment that will allow some people, not everybody, to pause and engage in reflection while other people will be very distraught by the fact that they can’t gamble because it’s a primary means by which they cope and deal with the world.”

Read More on this Project


All Funded Projects

Antibody Response and Prevention  of SARS-CoV-2 Fusion Activity 

This team is actively developing the pseudotype SARS-Cov-2 spike (S) protein in Lentivirus or VSV for analyzing neutralizing antibody, fusion inhibition, antibody mediated inhibition or enhancement of virus replication. Researchers are using COVID-19 convalescent patient sera for further validation. They are also cross-testing peptides representing potential B-cell epitopes on S2 with patient convalescent sera in ELISA for competitive inhibition to analyze epitope specific response. Finally, the team is analyzing isotope and half-life of antibodies in patient sera. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Ranjit Ray, Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Collaborators: 
 
Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Sarah George, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
James Brien, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology 
 
Changes in Gambling Behavior Due to COVID-19 

COVID-19 has resulted in the mass cancellation of sporting events and closure of gambling establishments. These closures have resulted in major impacts on human behavior, and they may have implications for those with gambling addictions. In this study, researchers are examining the impact of these abrupt closures in individuals at-risk for and diagnosed with gambling disorder, including behavior, perceptions, and potential compensatory responses in frequent gamblers over time. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Jeremiah Weinstock, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Psychology 
 
 

More on this Project

Comprehensive Evolutionary and Functional Elucidation of COVID-19- Related Viruses 

In order to prevent and combat COVID-19, it is critical that scientists have a full understanding of the evolution, biology and pathogenesis mechanisms of SARS-CoV-2. In this study, SLU researchers are systematically studying the evolution and function of COVID-19 and COVID-19- related viruses. Findings from the study will greatly inform the development of treatments and vaccines for future diseases caused by novel coronaviruses. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Dapeng Zhang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Biology 
 
Effects of BCG Vaccination on Host Immunity Against SARS-CoV-2 Infection

Although several vaccines targeting the SARS-CoV-2 virus are moving to clinical trials, their availability is still 12 to 18 months away. Thus, a ready-to-use treatment or vaccine to prevent or reduce the mortality of COVID-19 is urgent. Recent epidemiological studies indicate that tuberculosis vaccine BCG, or bacille Calmette-Guerin, may reduce morbidity and mortality in COVID-19 patients. This in vitro study is currently investigating whether BCG-trained immunity by vaccination affects SARS-CoV-2 infection. 

Principal Investigator: 
Jianguo Liu, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Collaborator: 
Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
The Etiology of Staying Home 

The concept of staying home has become a particularly important, yet understudied, element of public health response to COVID-19. At the same time, lock down and stay-at-home orders have made keeping up with rent and mortgage payments all the more difficult for many. This project examines the impact of COVID-19 on housing and housing security in St. Louis, such as the link between homelessness and viral spread. Findings from the study will help inform sensible interventions to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 on housing security. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Monica Eppinger, J.D.
Director, Center for International and Comparative Law 
 
Health Misinformation, Media Exposure, Uncertainty and Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Citizens frequently receive inconsistent messages from the media regarding COVID-19 risk factors, spread, fatalities and overall impact. Thus, in managing the outbreak of COVID-19, one of the most pressing challenges is combating confusion and misinformation with clear data about risks and informative resources for prevention. Researchers in this study are examining different channels of information exposure along with other predictors of information seeking and preventative behaviors, as they relate to the feelings of confusion and anxiety prevalent during the current pandemic. 

Principal Investigator: 
Jennifer E. Ohs, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Communication
 
Collaborators: 
 
Ilwoo Ju, Ph.D.
Brian Lamb School of Communication, Purdue University 
 
Amber Hinsley, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Communications, Texas State University
 
Taehwan Park, Ph.D.
Pharmacy Administration and Public Health, St. John’s University 
 
More on this Project
Impact of Changes During the COVID-19  Pandemic on Activity, Anxiety, Stress and Sleep in Older Adults 

Older adults are more susceptible to functional decline, limited mobility and challenges getting out beyond their homes. Researchers in this study are examining the experiences of older adults during the time of COVID-19 related to stress, anxiety, activity and sleep. Data is being collected via an online survey of community dwelling older adults, followed by telephone interviews with a targeted subsample of participants. 

Principal Investigator:
 
Helen Lach, Ph.D.
Professor, Nursing
 
Collaborators: 
 
Devita Stallings, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Nursing, Saint Louis University 
 
Janice Palmer, Ph.D.
Webster University Nursing 
 
Rebecca Lorenz, Ph.D.
University of Buffalo School of Nursing 
 
Large-Scale Collection of  COVID-19 Donor PBMC 

In order to move forward with COVID-19 research, investigators require clinical specimens from individuals recovering from SARS-CoV-2 infection. The Center for Vaccine Development (CVD) and CVD laboratories have the experience and capabilities to obtain these important samples for SLU research. Researchers are currently collecting peripheral blood mononuclear cells (PBMC) and disseminating them to multiple SLU investigators in order to strengthen their COVID-19 studies. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Collaborators: 
 
Ranjit Ray, Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Richard DiPaolo, Ph.D.
Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology 
 
David Ford, Ph.D.
Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology 
 
Sarah George, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Infectious Diseases 
 
Technology-Assisted Intervention to Address Loneliness and Social Isolation Among Older Adults 

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, loneliness and social isolation among older adults had reached “global epidemic” status and has significantly escalated over the last year, particularly for older adults living alone in a community. Researchers in this study are currently developing a computer-based platform to host a moderated “Circle of Friends” that will offer social support for older adults during and after the pandemic. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Marla Berg-Weger, Ph.D.
Professor, Social Work
 
Collaborator: 
John E. Morley, M.D.
Professor, Geriatric Medicine 
 
Specimen Collection to Study SARS-CoV-2-Specific Cell Responses 

In collaboration with EpiVax, a leader in the field of immunoinformatics, SLU researchers are submitting concepts and applications to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA) in order to identify novel T cell targets expressed by SARS-CoV-2, as well as those shared between the highly pathogenic betacoronaviruses, SARS and MERS. Findings from the study will aid in the development of T cell-based diagnostic tests, similar to those used for tuberculosis. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Daniel Hoft, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Collaborators:
 
Ranjit Ray, Ph.D.
Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
Richard DiPaolo, Ph.D.
Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology 
 
David Ford, Ph.D.
Professor, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology 
 
Sarah George, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Infectious Diseases
 
3D Printed User-Specific N-95 Respirator Alternative 

Researchers affiliated with SLU Center for Additive Manufacturing (SLU CAM) have developed an alternative to an N95 respirator for use at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital in the event of a severe shortage. The design consists of a permanent 3D-printed shell that is customized to the user via optical face scan, as well as an exchangeable filter. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Andrew Hall D.Sc.
Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering
 
Collaborators:
 
Andre Castiaux Ph.D.
Post-Doc, Chemistry

Keith Pereira, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Radiology 
 
COVID-19 and Student Resilience: A Blessing in Disguise? 

Students who began the Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences graduate program in August 2020 are in an interesting position, having transitioned to online courses at the end of their undergraduate careers and then resuming in-person study. It remains to be seen if their repeated adjustments to a “new normal” will impact their resilience. In this study, researchers will build a culture of resiliency among department faculty, administrators, fellow-students and campus ministers. Quantitative and qualitative data will be collected from participating students to assess the effectiveness of the promotion of resilience in the incoming cohort. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Mitzi Brammer, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Assistant Professor; Director of Graduate Program, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
 
Vitamin D as Treatment for SARS-CoV-2 Infection 

Vitamin D has been shown to have anti-inflammatory and anti-viral properties in studies of other viruses and may have therapeutic properties useful in the treatment and mitigation of COVID-19. This project will determine if vitamin D treatment can reduce viral load and positively impact normal cell processes during infection, as well as analyze how vitamin D affects RNA transcription. 

Principal Investigator:
 
Susana Gonzalo, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology 
 
Stress Experienced by Nurses During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

Nurses and their families are at increased risk of contracting COVID-19 due to lack of protective equipment, exposure to the infectious agent, lack of a treatment for the virus and increases in both work and work-related stress. This study will assess stress levels among nurses during the pandemic and to identify the correlated factors. Participants will respond to a brief online survey designed to assess their stress, career outlook, perspective of the virus and demographic information. 

Principal Investigator: 
Karen Moore, DNP, APRN, ANP-BC, FAANP, FAAN
Associate Professor, Nursing 
Advanced Tele-Practice Services for Adult Neurogenic Communication and Swallowing Disorders During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

COVID-19 has placed an increased emphasis on tele-health capabilities for all specialties. In the field of medical speech-language pathology, there is an increased demand for research examining the effectiveness and potential superiority of remotely delivered services. This project will contribute to the need by conducting patient assessments via the new Zoom Telemedicine system, enabling sensitive cases to receive continued treatment, graduate students to complete their required clinical contact hours and adding to the literature on older adults’ usage of technology-based treatment. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Whitney Postman, Ph.D., CCC-SLP
Assistant Professor, Speech, Language and Hearing Sciences
 
North American Coalition for the  Study of Digestive Manifestations  of COVID-19 (DMC19)

It is imperative that researchers gain a better understanding of the gastrointestinal expressions of the virus causing COVID-19, especially when considering that endoscopy appears to be a hotspot for transmission of the virus. Researchers in this project will compile data of the gastrointestinal and hepatological symptoms found in those who have a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis, creating new insights into how COVID-19 may be detected. 

Principal Investigator:
 
Jason Taylor, M.D.
Associate Professor, Internal Medicine
 
Supporting Employees During Involuntary Telework: How Supervisors Are Helping Employees Manage the Work-Family Interface 

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, employees are being forced to complete work responsibilities from home. This has contributed to shifting boundaries between work and family roles as employees juggle child- and elder-care duties in addition to their typical work tasks. This project will leverage qualitative methods in order to better understand the role of supervisors as employees establish new boundaries between their work and family. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
Candice Thomas, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Psychology 
 
Burnout, Resilience and the Humanism of Medicine During the COVID-19 Pandemic 

In work environments, the notions of burnout and resilience are highly relevant factors for one’s job satisfaction. Physicians regularly experience extended hours and insufficient resources in their daily experiences, but these have been exacerbated by the current COVID-19 pandemic. What remains to be seen is the possible mitigation that one’s sense of their medical career being a “calling” and not just their job may have on burnout and resilience. The proposed project seeks to better understand the relationships between career calling, burnout and resilience among physicians throughout the duration of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Principal Investigator: 

Jason Werner, M.D.
Associate Professor, Pediatrics 
 
Assessing the Effect of Obesity on the Pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2 (the Causative Agent of COVID-19) in the Syrian Hamster Mod

 Two of the most important risk factors associated with COVID-19, diabetes and hyperlipidemia, are closely linked to obesity. This study seeks to assess and show the degree to which obesity exacerbates the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2. Syrian hamsters, which support high levels of viral replication of the virus, will be separated into four groups. Two of these groups will be fed a high-calorie diet while the others will be fed a normal-calorie diet. After four weeks of these diets, one group from each category will be intranasally infected with SARS-CoV-2 in order to study the effects of diet and weight on pathogenesis. 

Principal Investigator: 
 
William Wold, Ph.D.
Chairman, Molecular Microbiology and Immunology