Nine research teams are awardees of the 2020 University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC)/University of Memphis (UofM) SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19 Research CORNET grants. The grant competition was specifically geared to facilitate new collaborations between UTHSC and UofM faculty on projects designed to better understand the virus and find therapies to end the pandemic.
Conceived by Steven R. Goodman, PhD, vice chancellor for Research at UTHSC, and Jasbir Dhaliwal, PhD, executive vice president for Research and Innovation at the UofM, the call for collaborative research proposals yielded 23 projects addressing the SARS-CoV-2 virus and its related disease, COVID-19. Award winners will receive a combined total of $450,000 in pilot funding for one year. Each funded project will receive $50,000 with the UofM and UTHSC contributing equally to the award.
The projects and their principal investigators are:
• “Determination of inflammatory and fibrotic markers in SARS-CoV2 infected macrophages and fibroblasts”: Theodore Cory, PharmD, PhD (UTHSC); Brandt Pence, PhD (UofM)
• “Host Genes, Immune Response and Susceptibility/Resistance to SARS-CoV2”: Kui Li, PhD (UTHSC); Xiaohua Huang, PhD (UofM)
• “Creating the UTHSC-University of Memphis COVID-19 Geographic Insights Collaborative”: David Schwartz, MD (UTHSC); Esra Ozdenerol, PhD (UofM)
• “Models of Lung Microenvironment to Explore COVID-19 Pathogenesis and Drug Development”: Marko Radic, PhD (UTHSC); Gary Bowlin, PhD (UofM)
• “Aerosolization of emitted particles in multiple breathing, speech and singing activities”: Sandra Stinnett, MD (UTHSC); M. Boyd Gillespie, MD, MSc, FACS (UTHSC); Ranganathan Gopalakrishnan, PhD (UofM); Miriam van Mersbergen, PhD, CCC-SLP (UofM); Daniel Foti, PhD (UofM); Jeffrey Marchetta, PhD (UofM); John Hochstein, PhD (UofM)
• “Identifying Areas of Geographical Inequalities in COVID-19 Morbidity and Mortality through Mapping of Spread of Confirmed Cases and Deaths across Disadvantaged Areas in Tennessee”: James Rhudy, Jr., PhD, DNP, APRN, CCNS, CCRN-CMC-CSC (UTHSC); Anzhelika Antipova, PhD (UofM)
• “Clinical, immunological and viral determinants of COVID-19 disease severity in adults and children”: Heather Smallwood, PhD (UTHSC); Nick Hysmith, MD (UTHSC); Colleen Jonsson, PhD (UTHSC); Yu Jiang, PhD (UofM)
• “Nrf2 Small Molecule Modulation of COVID-19 Multi-organ Tissue Injury”: Elizabeth Fitzpatrick, PhD (UTHSC); Thomas Sutter, PhD (UofM)
• “The Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Racial, Gender, and Socioeconomic Disparities in Access to Care and Health Outcomes Among Patients with Ambulatory Care Sensitive Conditions”: Satya Surbhi, PhD, MS, BPharm (UTHSC); Aram Dobalian, PhD, JD, MPH (UofM)
The awards are part of UTHSC’s Collaborative Research Network (CORNET) program, a seed funding initiative designed to encourage interdisciplinary collaboration on novel and innovative research that will lead to larger, national grants. The initial call for proposals indicated funding was available for up to five teams; four additional projects were provided funding. To be eligible, each proposal was required to have at least one principal investigator from each of the partner institutions. The submitted proposals ran the translational science spectrum from T0, or basic science research conducted in laboratories (such as the study of multi-organ tissue injury resulting from COVID-19 infection), to T4, or community-based research.
“This joint CORNET award, focused on COVID-19, brings together talented interdisciplinary teams across Memphis to work on novel projects that may lead to treatments, which will reduce the pathophysiology and deaths associated with the disease,” Dr. Goodman said. “Other funded projects deal with the impact of health disparities associated with COVID-19. All of the projects are aimed at producing a better quality of life for us all during this pandemic.”
The CORNETs have a strong track record in generating subsequent federal funding. Since the creation of the awards in 2016, the Office of Research has invested $2.01 million in CORNET award funding. Extramurally funded grants stemming from CORNET stimulated research totals over $20 million – a 10.25-fold return on investment.
“I want to thank all the faculty members at both institutions who stepped up with strong proposals to compete in this seed funding process,” Dr. Dhaliwal said. “As the two primary research-based institutions of higher learning in our region, it is important that our faculty are collaborating and working together to solve urgent national challenges. Such collaborative research also strengthens the deep science foundations of our local economy as we help grow the industries of the future.”
This is the second CORNET funding opportunity established between the UofM and UTHSC. In 2019, the two institutions awarded a $100,000 UTHSC/UofM CORNET in Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) Research.