Rapid Response Research and Development Fund

Accelerating COVID-19 solutions
Accelerating COVID-19 Research and Development
Generous support from Drexel’s Board of Trustees enabled the University’s Office of Research and Innovation to create the Rapid Response Research and Development Fund, which is supporting more than a dozen urgent action projects focused on COVID-19 health-related research and development. The work supported by this fund includes the production of new medical masks and face shields, a new app to track infections, vaccine-related research and the chronicling of mental health impacts.

In the health and economic crisis caused by COVID-19, communities around the country are turning to colleges and universities for support — and for answers. Drexel, with it its technology leadership and longstanding commitment to interdisciplinary, use-inspired research is uniquely positioned to make an impact. With generous support from the Board of Trustees, the University established the Rapid Response Research and Development Fund, which is allowing Drexel researchers to quickly pivot their expertise to solving some of the most urgent challenges of the pandemic.

“Philanthropists have made our COVID-19 rapid response efforts possible,” says Senior Vice Provost for Research Aleister Saunders. “In a uniquely Drexel way, they applied their resources in a real-world, real-time situation, putting faith in our researchers to make meaningful change during this crisis. Without philanthropy there could have been no masks, or shields or cutting-edge science. Donors open the door to this new future we need to make.”
The AJFLEX Shield

Interdisciplinary Innovation Tackles the PPE Shortage

Collaborations between Drexel faculty in engineering, design, medicine, and biomedical sciences are helping meet frontline healthcare workers’ dire need for personal protective equipment (PPE). Sharon Walker, dean of the College of Engineering, is leading a team of engineers and physicians to develop the BioBox, a containment device for aerosols that will enable doctors to perform intubation and other procedures more safely on COVID-19 patients. And Drexel’s Center for Functional Fabrics, under the leadership of Westphal College of Media Arts & Design professor Geneviève Dion, and in collaboration with College of Medicine dean Charles Cairns and College of Engineering professor Michael Waring, is mass producing washable, reusable masks that have been tested for particulate filtration and droplet protection.

For College of Engineering professor Michele Marcolongo, an urgent call from the chair of the emergency room at Einstein Medical Center spurred a project to create face shields, which are critical during patient intubation. Marcolongo partnered with BIOMED professor Amy Throckmorton and a team of researchers from several Drexel colleges and schools to develop the AJFLEX Shield, a 3D-printed headband with a clear shield and foam padding.

Utilizing Drexel maker facilities, such as the Machine Shop and Innovation Studio, as well as industry partnerships, the team is producing more than 100 masks a day, which they’ve delivered to St. Christopher's Hospital for Children, Penn Medicine, Einstein, University of Virginia, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Beverly Hospital in Boston, and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency. They continue to scale up efforts by partnering with manufacturers and distributors, with a goal of providing hospitals in the region with thousands of face shields.

New Approaches to Diagnosing, Treating and Preventing COVID-19

As the United States continues to face a shortage of essential COVID-19 tests, BIOMED professor Wan Shih is applying her expertise in diagnostic technology to the challenge. With help from the Rapid Response fund, Shih, who previously helped develop a revolutionary portable breast cancer detection device, is developing a field-usable and inexpensive COVID-19 genetic test that can yield results in 30 minutes and costs less than $10.

The fund is also enabling College of Medicine faculty to spearhead new approaches to the treatment and prevention of COVID-19. Using a concept his team originally developed in studies on HIV/AIDS, Irwin Chaiken is targeting the intrinsic instability of SARS/COVID-2 to find a way to irreversibly inactivate the virus. Simon Cocklin and Adel Rashad are looking at inhibitors than can prevent the virus from entering cells. Sonia Navas-Martin and Julio Martin-Garcia are exploring ways to dial down hyperactive immune responses to COVID-19. And Michele Kutzler and Elias Haddad are testing a new immune adjuvant, developed in Haddad’s lab, for potential use in a COVID-19 vaccine.

Helping Vulnerable Populations

While the coronavirus pandemic affects everyone, some groups — the elderly, those with underlying health conditions, as well as low-income and underserved communities — are especially at risk. The Rapid Response fund is enabling faculty to shed light on the health, social and economic impact of the crisis on vulnerable populations.

In the Dornsife School of Public Health, Ali Groves is working with colleagues at Yale and American Universities to conduct qualitative telephone interviews with low-income, minority communities in New Haven, Connecticut about how the pandemic is affecting their economic, health and social wellbeing. Amy Carroll-Scott and Félice Lê-Scherban — who co-lead the data and research core for the West Philly Promise Neighborhood Initiative — are building a user-friendly, web-based interactive dashboard that shows how vulnerable different Philadelphia neighborhoods are to the health and financial impacts of COVID-19. The dashboard will inform resource allocation and coalition building by organizations that are serving vulnerable communities in the city.

Without philanthropy there could have been no masks, or shields or cutting-edge science.

Psychiatry and information science faculty and researchers are working together to develop an online peer support system to address some of the heightened mental and behavioral health stressors of the pandemic. David Bennett and Barbara Schindler in the College of Medicine, and Christopher Yang and Ou Stella Liang in the College of Computing & Informatics, are creating and analyzing the effectiveness of a Facebook group intended to mitigate social isolation experienced by patients in Drexel’s Caring Together, a program for women with substance abuse disorders.

As older adults have suffered some of the highest death rates from COVID-19, they are under extra pressure to adopt extreme social distancing measures. College of Nursing and Health Professions faculty RoseAnn DiMaria-Ghalili, Kymberlee Montgomery and Gloria Gonzalez-Kruger, along with College of Medicine professor Michael Weingarten, are interviewing community-dwelling older adults and surveying telehealth providers about the health and social effects of social distancing.

“The findings from this research project will have an immediate impact on knowledge generation and provide direction for immediate actions and interventions,” DiMaria-Ghalili says.

Improving the Pandemic Response – Today and Tomorrow

As the response to the crisis unfolds in real time, the Rapid Research fund is fueling projects that are analyzing, and ultimately helping to improve, efforts in the near- and long-term. College of Arts and Sciences professor Scott Knowles has developed “Slow Disaster, COVID-19,” a podcast that places the pandemic in a historical perspective.

Dornsife School of Public Health professor Jennifer Taylor is focusing her expertise on first-responder health and safety to support the mental health of EMTs, firefighters and paramedics on the frontlines. Taylor, who is the director of Drexel’s Center for Firefighter Injury Research and Safety Trends (FIRST), is working with Andrea David, FIRST senior project manager, and LeBow College of Business professor Christian Resick to conduct monthly mental health assessments of first responders in FIRST’s network of more than 800 fire departments across the country.

The fund is also supporting research that leverages technology to generate better “big picture” data about the spread of the coronavirus. Charles Cairns has developed an app, available on the Apple App Store as well as Google Play, that can track individual student, faculty and staff symptoms in the Drexel community over time and space, and he has been working with the Gates Foundation and the National Institutes of Health to explore the app’s potential for broader use around the country and world.

Dornsife School faculty Neil Goldstein and Igor Burstyn developed a statistical modeling approach that suggests that COVID-19 counts may be inaccurate because current lab tests misclassify true cases. With support from the fund, they are expanding the methods they developed to work with geographic data to improve the accuracy of surveillance maps generated by health departments.

Burstyn notes, “The most important point of our work is as long we do not know the true accuracy of diagnostic testing, we may be underestimating how fast the pandemic is growing and overestimating how fast it is subsiding.”

See the complete list of project and faculty titles.

Adenosine Deaminase-1 Enhances Efficacy of a DNA Vaccine Encoding SARS-Cov-2 Spike Glycoprotein S1 Through Modulation of T Follicular Helper Cells

  • Michele Kutzler, associate professor of medicine and of microbiology & immunology, College of Medicine
  • Elias El Haddad, professor of medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases and HIV Medicine, College of Medicine

Biocontainment Intubation “Tent”: Design Refinement, Testing and Deployment

  • Sharon L. Walker, dean and Distinguished Professor of Civil, Architectural and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Kara Spiller, associate professor, BIOMED
  • Caroline Schauer, professor of materials science and engineering, College of Engineering
  • Michele Marcolongo, professor of material sciences and engineering, College of Engineering
  • Amy L. Throckmorton, associate professor, BIOMED
  • Michael Waring, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, College of Engineering
  • L. James Lo, assistant professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, College of Engineering

Chronicling the Impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic on Physical and Mental Health and Telehealth Care Delivery: Perspectives from Providers and Older Adults

  • RoseAnn DiMaria-Ghalili, assistant dean, interprofessional and collaborative research, and professor, College of Nursing and Health Professions (CNHP)
  • Kymberlee Montgomery, senior associate dean and associate clinical professor of nursing and medicine, CNHP
  • Gloria E. Gonzalez-Kruger, associate clinical professor, CNHP
  • Michael S. Weingarten, professor of surgery, College of Medicine

COVID-19: Design-Build of “AJFLEX Shield” for Hospitals and Health Systems in the Philadelphia Region

  • Amy L. Throckmorton, associate professor, BIOMED
  • Michele Marcolongo, professor, material sciences and engineering, College of Engineering
  • Ellen Bass, professor of information science, College of Computing & Informatics (CCI)

COVID-19: Developing a PPE Facemask and Validating Its Removal Efficiency

  • Michael Waring, associate professor of civil, architectural and environmental engineering, College of Engineering
  • Geneviève Dion, director, Center for Functional Fabrics, and professor of design, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design

COVID-19: Slow Disaster

  • Scott G. Knowles, professor of history, College of Arts and Sciences

Creating a COVID-19 Urban Vulnerability Data Tool to Inform Mobilization and Coalition-Building

  • Amy Carroll-Scott, associate professor, community health and prevention, Dornsife School Public Health
  • Félice Lê-Scherban, assistant professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, Dornsife School

Implementation of an Online Peer Support Community to Assist Women with Substance Abuse Disorder During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Pilot Study

  • David Bennett, professor of psychiatry, College of Medicine
  • Barbara A. Schindler, professor of psychiatry and pediatrics, College of Medicine
  • Christopher C. Yang, professor of information science, CCI
  • Ou Stella Liang, doctoral student in information science, CCI

Improving Spatial Surveillance for COVID-19 Cases While Accounting for Errors in Testing

  • Neil D. Goldstein, assistant research professor, epidemiology and biostatistics, Dornsife School
  • Igor Burstyn, associate professor, environmental and occupational health, Dornsife School

Inexpensive, Rapid, Field-Usable Genetic Test to Detect COVID-19 in Asymptomatic Individuals

  • Wan Y. Shih, professor, BIOMED

Irreversible Inactivation of SARS-Cov-2 by Spike Protein Targeting

  • Irwin Chaiken, professor of biochemistry & molecular biology, College of Medicine

Macrocyclic and Small Molecule Inhibitors of SARS-CoV-2 Entry

  • Simon Cocklin, associate professor of biochemistry & molecular biology, College of Medicine
  • Adel A. Rashad, research assistant professor of biochemistry & molecular biology, College of Medicine

Novel Mobile App and Information System for COVID-19 Situational Awareness and Organizational Management

  • Charles B. Cairns, Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean, College of Medicine

PPE Fabric Face Mask for Healthcare Providers and General Use

  • Geneviève Dion, director, Center for Functional Fabrics, and professor of design, Westphal College of Media Arts & Design
  • Charles B. Cairns, Walter H. and Leonore Annenberg Dean, College of Medicine

RAPID Assessment of First Responder Mental Health

  • Jennifer Taylor, Arthur L. and Joanne B. Frank Professor in Environmental and Occupational Health, Dornsife School
  • Christian Resick, associate professor of management, LeBow College of Business
  • Andrea David, senior project manager, Dornsife School

SARS-Cov-2 Infection and Sensing in Primary Human Macrophages

  • Sonia Navas-Martin, associate professor of microbiology & immunology, College of Medicine
  • Julio Martin-Garcia, associate professor of microbiology & immunology, College of Medicine

Understanding the Disproportionate Impacts of COVID-19 on Low-Income, Minority Communities

  • Ali Groves, assistant professor, community health and prevention, Dornsife School

Ongoing donor support is critical to helping Drexel navigate the challenges of the coronavirus pandemic, particularly in enabling strategic initiatives and ensuring that our students stay on track during this difficult time.

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