The Joint Steering Council of the University of Maryland Strategic Partnership: MPowering the State (MPower), a formal collaboration of the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP), has awarded funding to five multidisciplinary research teams to respond to the impact of COVID-19 in Maryland and beyond.
After a review and ranking of 50 submissions by faculty peer representatives from both UMB and UMCP, the steering council awarded $500,000 in funding to five teams: two to support vaccine development; one to develop a rapid testing method; one to study psychological factors of vaccine acceptance among African Americans; and one to explore the use of an artificial intelligence tool for delivery of child behavioral health services via telemedicine in rural communities.
The Joint Steering Council issued the call for proposals to mobilize researchers at both institutions to bring solutions that would offer immediate action to address the COVID-19 pandemic and prepare for future pandemics.
The request for proposals sought timely, impactful projects that would improve the health of Maryland residents by reducing the impact of COVID-19 through scientific, medical, public health, social, behavioral, or policy/legal approaches, or by supporting those most at risk or experiencing the greatest disparities in care.
Roger J. Ward, EdD, JD, MSL, MPA, who is UMB’s interim provost, executive vice president, and dean of the Graduate School, is a member of the Joint Steering Council. “This pandemic is not just a medical crisis, it’s a complex human crisis, which requires a multidisciplinary response,” he said. “We knew that tapping the power of the strategic partnership would bring together top thinkers from all of the areas of our expertise in medicine and public health as well as in the social and behavioral sciences, policy, and law.”
Funding was offered from $25,000 to $100,000 per award, for a duration no longer than 12 months.
“Through MPower, we can bring together our significant and complementary research strengths to respond to this public health crisis,” added UMCP provost and senior vice president Mary Ann Rankin, PhD, who also serves on the Joint Steering Council. “Our goal is to harness our collective faculty expertise to accelerate critical research that will reduce the impact of COVID-19.”
The winning teams capitalize on the research expertise of UMB and UMCP, and they showcase collaboration across multiple colleges and schools. The selected teams consist of faculty from UMCP’s College of Arts and Humanities, School of Public Health, and College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, partnering with researchers from UMB’s schools of medicine, pharmacy, and nursing.
“We knew we would get interest when we asked faculty to collaborate and bring multidisciplinary expertise to respond to this urgent health crisis,” Ward said. “But I was very pleased with the large response and the real potential for impact. I‘m looking forward to their progress.”
A look at the winning projects:
Predicting and Improving COVID-19 Vaccine Acceptance Among African Americans During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Project summary: As the world anxiously awaits a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, there is growing concern about vaccine hesitancy fueled in part by misinformation. The proposed research seeks to understand why African Americans, who suffer disproportionately from the adverse health and economic impact of the pandemic, might accept or reject the anticipated COVID-19 vaccine. The goal of this project is to develop and evaluate communication messages that could be used in a broader health promotion effort to improve COVID-19 vaccine acceptance among African Americans. Findings of this research will help address COVID-19 health disparities and inform pandemic vaccine communication across ethnic/racial groups.
- Xiaoli Nan, PhD, UMCP, College of Arts and Humanities (ARHU), professor of communication; director, Center for Health and Risk Communication
- Sandra Quinn, PhD, UMCP, School of Public Health, professor and chair, Department of Family Science, senior associate director, Maryland Center for Health Equity
- Clement Adebamowo, MD, University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM), professor, Epidemiology and Public Health, Institute of Human Virology; associate director, Population Science Program, Marlene & Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center
- Shana Ntiri, MD, UMSOM, assistant professor, Family and Community Medicine; medical director, Baltimore City Cancer Program, Marlene & Stewart Greenebaum Comprehensive Cancer Center
Development of a COVID-19 Vaccine Based on the Supramolecular Assembly of SARS-CoV-2 Structural Proteins Using a Novel Immunoadjuvant Delivery System
Project summary: This project will generate novel vaccine candidates for SARS-CoV-2 that are urgently needed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The team will utilize an interdisciplinary approach with advanced computational design tools and high-resolution structural characterization to produce and optimize vaccine candidates based on the spike glycoprotein, which is a critical target of the antibody response to SARS-CoV-2.
- Tom Fuerst, PhD, UMCP, professor, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology Research (IBBR), Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics
- Matthew Frieman, PhD, UMSOM, associate professor, Department of Microbiology and Immunology
- Gilad Ofek, PhD, UMCP, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, assistant professor, Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, IBBR
- Brian Pierce, PhD, UMCP, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, assistant professor, Cell Biology and Molecular Genetics, IBBR
- Alexander Andrianov, PhD, UMCP, research professor, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, IBBR
A Rapid Point-of-Care Testing for SARS-CoV-2
Project summary: This innovative project aims to develop a point-of-care test that can rapidly and effectively detect infections of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which causes COVID-19. One of the challenges in preventing onward transmission of the virus is the lack of a simple, rapid, and affordable test. Without a rapid test, it is almost impossible to early identify infected cases and isolate them from the community. This study meets this urgent need in this public health crisis.
- Feng Jiang, MD, PhD, UMSOM, professor, Department of Pathology
- Hongjie Liu, PhD, UMCP, School of Public Health, professor and chair, Epidemiology and Biostatistics
- Sanford Stass, MD, UMSOM, professor and chair, Department of Pathology; co-lead of COVID-19 testing initiative of Maryland
- Nevins Todd, MD, UMSOM, clinical associate professor, Pulmonary Medicine
Molecular Investigations of SARS-CoV-2 Spike Protein
Project summary: In infected cells, coronaviruses use host fat molecules to transport spike protein to the correct cellular compartment for progeny assembly. Researchers will use high-resolution imaging to discern atomic-level details of how host fat molecules modify the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein for transport. These architectural details will open avenues for computational screening of small molecules for inhibition of spike-fat interactions. This approach offers a potential means of therapeutic intervention in COVID-19 by inhibiting assembly and propagation of SARS-CoV-2 progeny.
- Syed Saif Hasan, PhD, UMSOM, assistant professor, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- John Orban, PhD, UMCP, College of Computer, Mathematics and Natural Sciences, professor, Chemistry and Biochemistry, NMR Spectroscopy, IBBR
- Alexander MacKerell, PhD, University of Maryland School of Pharmacy (UMSOP), Grollman-Glick Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences; director, Computer-Aided Drug Design Center
Developing an Artificial Intelligence Tool to Improve Caregiver Engagement for Rural Child Behavioral Health Services
Project summary: The overall goal of this project is to study artificial intelligence based-technology strategies to help child behavioral health providers improve caregiver engagement in rural Maryland communities. With the recent pandemic, most of these services are provided “virtually” through videoconferencing platforms. The project will collect and analyze information from videotaped sessions (e.g., speech patterns, facial expressions) and assess the relationship between artificial intelligence-measured engagement with provider and caregiver-reported engagement in care. The project also will investigate the association of social isolation with perceived caregiver engagement. This data could potentially be used to improve provider training and develop a tool that provides real-time feedback to providers on caregiver engagement.
- Gloria Reeves, MD, UMSOM, associate professor, psychiatry, Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry; vice chair of research services
- Aniket Bera, PhD, UMCP, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies (UMIACS), assistant professor, Department of Computer Science, Maryland Robotics Center
- Susan dosReis, PhD, UMSOP, Pharmaceutical Health Services, vice chair for research, Pharmaceutical Health Services Research
- Dinesh Manocha, PhD, UMCP, College of Computer, Mathematical and Natural Sciences, professor, Paul Chrisman Iribe Professor of Computer Science, and Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Distinguished University Professor
- Mathangi Gopalakrishnan, PhD, MS, UMSOP, research assistant professor, Pharmaceutical Health Services Research
- Kay Connors, MSW, LCSW-C, UMSOM, instructor, Psychiatry
- Kristin Bussell, PhD, CRNP-PMH, University of Maryland School of Nursing, assistant professor, Family and Community Health
- Katrina Escuro, MD, UMSOM, assistant professor, Psychiatry