Five teams of researchers have received funding to develop tests and strategies that Clemson University and the community can use to continue fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
The projects aim to develop new long-lasting sanitizing solutions, faster diagnostics tests and additional tools to more accurately predict COVID-19 spread and severity, among other solutions.
Created by the Clemson University School of Health Research (CUSHR), the College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences (CBSHS), the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences (CECAS), and the Division of Research, the CUSHR COVID Launch Grant encourages collaborations across disciplines and colleges to help tackle the pandemic from multiple angles.
While supporting the priorities of the Health Innovation Cluster within the ClemsonForward strategic plan, these research projects will help build upon COVID research and data sets gathered by the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments (CLIA) lab recently established at Clemson. Data from these projects will be available to all interested faculty doing research on the pandemic so faculty can continue building upon this research.
As part of this program, intercollegiate and interdisciplinary collaboration was a necessity because of the vital importance of different perspectives from different disciplines, said CBSHS Dean Leslie Hossfeld.
These seed grants are a great example of bridging the social, behavioral and health sciences with the clinical and life sciences,” said Hossfeld. These proposals build upon the exceptional work of Dr. Delphine Dean in developing the CLIA lab by moving COVID research from the lab to the communities.”
“We are proud to be a key supporter in this program to help build people and communities and carry out the land-grant mission of the University,” added Rachel Mayo, CBSHS associate dean of research and graduate studies.
Anand Gramopadhye, dean of the College of Engineering, Computing and Applied Sciences, expressed support for the program.
“Clemson University researchers have gathered large amounts of de-identified data, thanks to the collective efforts of faculty, students and staff to respond to COVID-19 with a comprehensive testing program,” he said. “The data will be crucial in developing novel, cross-disciplinary strategies to address COVID-19 on campus and the surrounding community. The CUSHR COVID Research Launch Grants provides critical seed funding for research that can help us find new solutions to this pandemic and come out of COVID stronger.”
In addition to the intercollegiate partnerships, numerous projects involve clinicians at Prisma Health.
These projects were selected to receive $25,000:
Predicting COVID symptom severity
Jordon Gilmore, assistant professor of bioengineering, is working with nursing professor Nancy Meehan and an interdisciplinary team to find a way to predict the severity of COVID-19 symptoms that a patient will endure based on the individual’s test. The Gilmore-Meehan team includes Sullivan Center nurse practitioner Caitlin Kickham and Jerome McClendon, a research assistant professor in the Department of Automotive Engineering.
Using data gathered from testing efforts at the Clemson CLIA lab, along with self-reported symptom-tracking data, the team will develop predictions as to symptom prevalence and severity. Self-reported data will be collected through a mobile app, the COVID Wellness Nurse (CWN), previously created by the team. The CWN app will help patients track their symptoms and allow healthcare providers to monitor their health. The data from this study will help determine risk categories for patients and help predict the likelihood of a patient developing serious symptoms or long-term complications from a COVID infection. This new information will help health care providers and administrators streamline and better manage COVID patient care at Clemson and beyond.
Top left: Jordon Gilmore; Top right: Nancy Meehan; Bottom left: Caitlin Kickham; Bottom right: Jerome McClendon
Left: Jeff Anker; Right: Delphine Dean
Development of a new saliva test
Jeff Anker, Wallace R. Roy Distinguished Professor of Analytical Chemistry, and Delphine Dean, Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor in the Department of Bioengineering, are working with Prisma Health to develop a new type of saliva COVID test that detects the SARS-CoV-2 virus much more rapidly and simply than the current PCR test. The method involves mixing saliva specimens with both buoyant gas-filled silica beads labeled with antibodies that bind one part of a viral protein and magnetic particles labeled with antibodies that bind another part of the viral protein. If the sample has SARS-CoV-2 viral protein traces, the beads and magnetic particles will stick together and form a sandwich that is both magnetic and floats to the top of the sample allowing specific, sensitive and rapid separation and detection.
The goal of the project is to increase the number of rapid testing locations and the ability of clinics without labs to perform rapid tests, thus allowing COVID-19 positive individuals to isolate and get care sooner. This work came out of a Creative Inquiry remote undergraduate research project, where the team won first place among 86 teams and was a finalist in the InnoVision Awards competition. Anker and Dean are working with Prisma Health physicians Phillip Moschella and Ronald Pirrallo.
Tracking the outbreak in the Upstate
A team of sociology and mathematics faculty members are working to help health care officials get a more accurate picture of how COVID-19 is spreading in the Upstate. The team consists of sociology faculty members William Haller, Miao Li and Ye Luo, as well as School of Mathematics and Statistical Sciences assistant professor Yu-Bo Wang and Clemson Computing and Information Technology employee Patricia Carbajales-Dale. With current testing, tracking positive results is a rough benchmark of ongoing changes in infection levels in an area, but the team states that it’s not the same as rigorous estimation of probable infection rates for specific neighborhoods in an area. By using samples in the Clemson CLIA lab along with secondary data from the American Community Survey and a survey from the team, the goal is to get a more accurate picture of the spread of COVID-19 in the Upstate, including infection rates and changes as well as the probability of infections in certain areas.
Their work could help inform more efficient allocation of public health and mental health resources to help the community deal with the pandemic. In addition to the team’s epidemiological focus, the project also aims to examine the pandemic’s impact on people’s social connectedness and mental well-being. The team will evaluate the changes of social ties during the COVID-19 outbreak and identify factors promoting loneliness, social network segregation and mental health problems. Findings in this project will help understand the long-term impact of COVID-19 on American social integration and mental health.
Top left: William Haller; Top right: Miao Li; Bottom left: Patricia Carbajales-Dale; Middle: Yu-Bo Wang; Bottom right: Ye Luo
Left: Alexey Vertegel; Top right: Jeremy Tzeng; Bottom right: Delphine Dean
Developing a longer-lasting disinfectant
A collaborative of Clemson scientists and Prisma Health clinicians will work to develop a topical disinfectant to better slow the spread of COVID-19. The pandemic has stressed supplies of surface sanitizers, and many of the products available only reduce microbial counts on surfaces for up to six hours after application. This team proposes a longer-term solution with a chitosan-and-ethanol mix that shows potential to prevent microbial contamination for up 48 hours after treatment. Collaborators on the project include Alexey Vertegel, associate professor of bioengineering; Jeremy Tzeng, associate professor of biological sciences; Delphine Dean, the Ron and Jane Lindsay Family Innovation Professor of Bioengineering; and Alfredo Carbonell, Yuliya Yurko and Beth Smith of Prisma Health.
Developing a new COVID diagnostic test
Diana Vanegas, assistant professor of environmental engineering and Earth sciences, will work with Eric McLamore, associate professor of agricultural sciences, to develop a label-free diagnostic test to detect SARS-CoV-2 and its mutants in saliva. Emerging pathogens with fast transmission capacity such as SARS-CoV-2 have demonstrated the importance of preparedness for future viral outbreaks and the need for fast deployment of in-situ testing tools and epidemiological surveillance with high temporal and spatial resolution, particularly in places that are most vulnerable to becoming reservoirs of infectious agents. Vanegas and McLamore will design rapid tests that use antibodies, aptamers and enzymes as biosensors for SARS-CoV-2. These biosensors will be tested simultaneously in complex media for determination of the optimum self-referencing sensor scheme. They will couple multiple receptors that have a varying degree of affinity toward CoV-2 mutants to establish a new rapid test that can determine the presence of multiple variants. This project will be conducted in collaboration with Delphine Dean in Clemson’s REDDI (Research and Education in Disease Diagnostics Intervention) lab.
Left: Diana Vanegas; Right: Eric McLamore
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