Portraits of Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page flank an image of coronaviruses.

Two Miami University researchers receive NSF RAPID grant to develop coronavirus-attacking materials

Materials will help limit indirect contact transmission of COVID-19

Two Miami University researchers in protein, polymer and materials chemistry received a Rapid Response Research (RAPID) grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for a project that will address the spread of the novel coronavirus.

They received $181,849 to develop materials that can be used to prevent indirect contact transmission of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus responsible for COVID-19.

Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page, both associate professors of chemistry and biochemistry, are the primary and co-investigators of the project.

Reduce indirect contact transmission of COVID-19

The virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is especially concerning for indirect contact transmission, since it can remain active on various surfaces for extended periods of time, Konkolewicz said.

If a person infected with COVID-19 deposits active viral particles (droplets or aerosols) on frequently touched surfaces, the disease can be transmitted if an uninfected person picks up the active viruses from the contaminated surface.

In this way, the disease can be spread even if the two individuals do not ever come in direct contact with each other. Since the virus can remain active on surfaces for days, there is an increased risk of indirect contact transmission.

To help limit this, Konkolewicz and Page will develop materials that can capture and inactivate the coronavirus on surfaces.

Capture and inactivate the virus

Through their work in synthetic polymer chemistry and protein chemistry, the researchers plan two complementary approaches in developing coronavirus-attacking materials:

Inactivate: One approach is to disrupt the lipid layer/lipid envelope in the coronavirus. This lipid envelope is critical to the structure of the virus and also to its infection mechanism. “If we disrupt the lipids, we can inactivate the coronavirus, such that it cannot infect a new individual,” Konkolewicz said. (Handwashing with soap is one example of disrupting the lipid layer to inactivate the virus).

Capture: The other approach is to capture and trap the coronavirus spike proteins within the synthetic material. This way the virus cannot leave and provide a path for a new infection.

Combined: The researchers will also develop materials with both capture and inactivation capabilities. This two-pronged approach tethers the virus to the surface to allow for increased opportunities to attack and inactivate it, Page said.

The new materials they develop could be adapted or coated onto existing high touch surfaces to limit indirect contact transmission, Konkolewicz said. The polymers will form a tough network to ensure the material performs for an extended period of time.

Konkolewicz and Page will also develop content on the importance of polymer materials in healthcare applications. This will be distributed through YouTube channels for accessibility to the public.

About the researchers

Konkolewicz researches responsive, or “smart” polymer materials and materials that contain both synthetic and biological components. He was awarded an NSF CAREER Award for self-healing polymers in 2018. He was named a 2018 Young Investigator by the American Chemical Society-Polymer, Materials Science, and Engineering section and he received the 2018 Polymer Chemistry Emerging Investigator Award. He and his research team have multiple research collaborations with colleagues in chemistry, biochemistry, chemical engineering and mechanical engineering. He was named a Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar in 2018.

Follow Konkolewicz on Twitter @PolyKonkol.

Page researches the structure, dynamics and mechanisms of action for proteins in a range of biologic and synthetic systems. He was named a Miami University Junior Faculty Scholar in 2016. He received an NSF Career grant in 2016 for his research on protein quality control. In 2018 he received a five-year MIRA (Maximizing Investigator’s Research Award) — one of Miami’s first two — that supports his research projects on protein quality control and antibiotic resistance. He has multiple research collaborations with colleagues in chemistry, biochemistry and bioengineering.

Follow Page on Twitter @ThePageLab.

NSF RAPID grants

The grant for “RAPID: Viral Particle Disrupting and Sequestering Polymer Materials applied to Coronaviruses,” will support the research of Page and Konkolewicz for one year and support three graduate students.

RAPID grants give the NSF a way to help fight the pandemic by supporting scientists doing relevant work across many disciplines, according to the foundation. They may be funded for up to $200,000 and up to one year in duration, with an average award size of $89,000.

In March Congress gave NSF an extra $75 million in the CARES Act stimulus funding to spend on research projects that will help “prevent, prepare for, and respond” to the novel coronavirus.


Written by Susan Meikle, Miami University News and Communications. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photos of Dominik Konkolewicz and Rick Page by Miami University Photo Services. Image of coronaviruses by By U.S. Army. Public domain.

Closeup of part of the sculpture "Door of Return" by Kan Yasuda, located at the City Garden in St. Louis, Missouri.

VPRI hosts forum on return to research activities

Last Thursday, April 30, nearly 110 researchers, scholars, and creative artists from Miami University came together for a virtual forum on resuming research activities under the relaxed pandemic restrictions in the recent Stay Safe Ohio order.

During the forum, Vice President for Research & Innovation Jim Oris said measures taken to re-open campus to research, scholarly, and creative activities will be guided by the Return to Research Committee, which consists of 25 faculty and staff. Members of the committee were nominated by divisional deans and department chairs.

As the committee’s work progresses, Oris plans to host bi-weekly forums, with the next forum scheduled for Thursday, May 14. An invitation with a link to the forum will be sent several days prior to the forum. Any member of the Miami research community who must attend via phone may request a calendar invitation for the event.


Photo of Kan Yasuda’s “Door of Return” by Jennifer Morrow via Flickr, used under Creative Commons license.

A world map superimposed with a "COVID-19" stamp.

Funding available for COVID-19 research

Many federal and private sponsors have issued special calls or guidance on using existing funding mechanisms for research on COVID-19, including the following:

Federal funding opportunities can also be found by entering the word “covid” in the search in the keyword field in the “Search Grants” section of grants.gov.

As more opportunities come to our attention, we’ll update the list of COVID-19-related funding opportunities on the Research & Innovation website. Similar lists can also be found on the following organizations’ websites:


Image by TheDigitalArtist via Pixabay, used under Creative Commons license.

A health care provider wears surgical gloves and holds a clipboard with a checklist.

Miami donates protective gear to area health care facilities

Area health care workers benefited from donations of personal protective equipment (PPE) collected across Miami University’s Oxford and Regionals campuses last week.

As Miami faculty and staff closed down campus laboratory facilities in preparation for Gov. Mike DeWine’s (Miami ‘69) stay-at-home order last week, unused protective gear was collected for donation to health care workers.

Most of the items were sent to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, UC Health, the Butler County Board of Health, Mercy Health-Fairfield and the Atrium Medical Center.

Rick Page, associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, led a departmentwide collection of supplies from research labs and teaching labs. The department donated:

  • More than 125,000 gloves and 750 goggles to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center and UC Health

The Miami University police department donated items including:

  • 10 boxes of gloves (250 per box)
  • 196 N95 respirators

Dennis Tobin, associate professor of art, said Miami’s ceramics studio commonly uses N95 respirators as they mix their own clay and glazes from raw materials. He donated:

  • 120 N95 respirators to Oxford’s McCullough-Hyde Memorial Hospital/TriHealth

Mercy Health and Atrium Medical Center contacted Miami University Regionals about the availability of PPE to spare, said Cathy Bishop-Clark, Regionals dean. Laboratory coordinators collected supplies, and Perry Richardson, senior director of media and community relations, delivered a car full of items to each facility.

The Regionals also collected cleaning and sanitizing supplies (wipes, paper towels, tissues) to donate to the Hamilton police department.

Jeff Johnson, director of environmental health and safety, collected items from the animal care facility and departments across the Oxford campus, including biology, kinesiology and health, psychology and chemical, paper and biomedical engineering.

“We had about four full pickup truck loads of materials,” Johnson said. He and University Fire Marshall Rick Dusha picked up the items which were then centrally stored by Robin Parker, general counsel for Miami, until they were donated.

Jim Oris, vice president for research and innovation, helped coordinate the campuswide collection of PPE. He extended his thanks to everyone involved with this effort.

“I am proud to work for a place like this. The campus is beautiful, but the people make it special,” he said.

A list provided by Oris’ office for additional items donated includes:

  • 790 boxes of gloves (80,000 pairs)
  • 3,130 surgical masks
  • 1,100 surgical caps
  • 782 goggles
  • 355 shoe covers
  • 216 N95 respirators
  • 200 surgical gowns

Written by Susan Meikle, Miami University News and Communications. Originally appeared as a “Top Story” on  Miami University’s News and Events website.

Photo via pxfuel.com, used under Creative Commons license.

Blackboard with the word "UPDATE" written on it. An outstretched hand holds an alarm clock in a space between the "P" and the "D" in the word update.

NSF updates research community on COVID-19 response

Jean Feldman, head of NSF’s policy office, gave a COVID-19 update as part of a panel discussion hosted by the National Council of Research Administrators (NCURA) on March 25. As described below, she addressed several of the questions most frequently being fielded by her office. For detailed responses on these and other FAQs, visit the NSF COVID-19 webpage. A new set of questions and answers was posted on March 26, with a specific section on Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) grants.

Are NSF proposal deadlines being extended?

Many deadlines have been extended, but these are being decided and announced on a one-by-one basis. As of March 27, 15 deadlines are listed on NSF’s Impact on Deadline Dates webpage.

Can we continue to charge salary costs to our grants while non-essential research has been curtailed?

Grant recipients can continue charging salaries, stipends and benefits as long as these payments are consistent with their home institution’s policies. However, you should not assume that supplemental funding will be available to continue salaries when research activities can be restarted. In other words, you might end up with a budget shortfall down the road. If you anticipate this happening, you should contact your program officer.

Can universities donate personal protective equipment that was purchased with grant funding?

This is typically an unallowable expense, but funding agencies have discretion to approve such donations. Contact your program officer to see if it will be allowed. If you plan to donate now and then use university funds later to replenish your supply, work with your Grants & Contracts accountant to very carefully document the donation and replacement process.

How are award decision timelines being impacted?

The award process is currently continuing as normal; panels that were scheduled have gone ahead (virtually). Over time, delays may occur, but it’s too soon to predict those now.

Feldman encourages principal investigators and research administrators to contact their program officer or the Policy Office (policy@nsf.gov) with questions. Please also refer to Miami’s Research and Innovation COVID-19 and Your Research Program webpage, and in particular, the Agency and COGR Guidance webpage.


Photo by geralt via needpix.com, used under Creative Commons license.

Do not enter sign.

Continuation of critical research under the COVID-19 stay-at-home order

"Stay home" badge with image of a coronavirus in the center.

With the governor’s new directive to stay at home, everyone now needs to consider whether their on-campus research activities are considered critical. The current definition of “critical research” includes activities that are:

  • Essential for monitoring and maintaining infrastructure;
  • Essential for the health and well-being of study participants; or
  • Long-term or costly experiments for which delay or cessation would result in catastrophic loss of research or cause devastating financial consequences.

As such, the only on-campus research activities that should continue during the stay-at-home directive are as follows:

  1. Monitoring and maintenance of research infrastructure. Each department or building should have one designated essential staff person who can check freezers, incubators, cell cultures, equipment, and non-animal facility organism cultures on a daily basis.
  2. Human subjects research for which the health and well-being of the participants is dependent on the research. All other human subjects research should be conducted remotely or suspended.
  3. Long-term and very costly experiments for which delay or cessation would be catastrophic.

If your research qualifies as critical under ii or iii above, you must use this form to submit a request to continue on-campus research activities. The form asks for the following information:

  • A detailed description of the research activities you propose to continue;
  • A plan to mitigate risk of COVID-19 infection; and
  • A description of the negative consequences of delay or cessation.
    You should consult with the appropriate compliance committee (IRB, IACUC, or Biosafety) to prepare your responses.

Submitted requests will be sent to your chair and dean, who will, at their discretion, endorse the request and forward it to the VPRI. All requests are subject to approval by the VPRI and the provost.

If your research activities do not rise to the level of “critical,” under the definition provided above, you should bring your in-lab activities to an orderly shutdown and follow the governor’s directive to stay at home.


Do not enter image via torange.biz. “Stay home” image by iXimus via Pixabay. Both used under Creative Commons license.

An outstretched hand is positioned to catch falling question marks.

Research & Innovation updates guidance on research during the coronavirus pandemic

Caution road signs with the word "Help" on them.

As the situation with the coronavirus continues to change, seemingly from minute to minute, the Office of Research & Innovation has developed more robust guidance for Miami University researchers. General guidance can be found on the Research & Innovation homepage by clicking on About and then COVID-19 and Your Research Program. There, you will find links to guidance on the following:

We will keep these pages updated with the latest information. You can also reach out to our staff by sending an email or calling their office phone number, which they will answer off-campus using the Cisco Jabber app.


Question mark image by mohamed mahmoud hassan via PublicDomainPictures.net. Help photo by Gerd Altmann via Pixabay. Both used under Creative Commons license.

Illustration of novel coronoavirus 2019-nCoV

Planning can mitigate effects of COVID-19-related absences from campus

Illustration of novel coronoavirus 2019-nCoV

As part of the larger university effort to plan for the possible arrival and containment of the coronavirus COVID-19, Miami University researchers are urged to consider the impact physical absences from campus might have on their work. (H/T to Case Western Reserve University, who allowed us to adapt their information for use at Miami.)

Among the scenarios to consider are the following:

  • Two-week self-isolation of PI
  • Two-week self-isolation of one or more research staff
  • Period of remote work for all faculty and staff, lasting 2-6 weeks
  • Partial shutdown of university operations, lasting 2-6 weeks

To plan for the possibility of any of the above scenarios, please think through your answers to the following questions and take appropriate steps to mitigate the potential impact to your research.

General

  • Do you have any studies involving participants, animals, ingredients, or experiments that would be adversely affected? If so, what plans can you put in place to: 1) allow those studies or experiments to continue or 2) mitigate the effects of pausing those studies or experiments and resume them later?
  • What notice will you need to give sponsors or regulators if research is paused or delayed beyond a two-week period?
  • Do you have standing purchasing orders that would need to be modified?
  • Are there human resources issues that would need to be addressed?
  • Would there be an impact on your collection, analysis, or storage of data?
  • Do you have regulatory approvals in place that might expire during a potential interruption to normal operations? Can these approvals be renewed early?
  • Do you have collaborators who will need to be notified of any interruptions to normal operations?
  • Will any reports be due to sponsors during a potential interruption to normal operations?
  • Would the interruption to normal operations warrant a no-cost extension for any of your sponsored projects?
  • What costs would be incurred in implementing various mitigation plans?

Human subjects research

  • Does your protocol require in-person participation or treatment? If so, can it be modified for remote participation?
  • Does your protocol require in-person monitoring? If so, can it be modified for remote monitoring?
  • Would your data or results be affected if your participants had to self-isolate or if they contracted COVID-19?
  • Should your participants be screened for COVID-19 as part of your inclusion/exclusion criteria?
  • Will the location of your study remain open and available to participants?
  • Has the location of your study implemented any prevention procedures that will affect participation in your study or affect the ability of your study to proceed?
  • Any modifications made to protocols need to be submitted to the IRB for approval prior to implementation. You should also consider whether such modifications also need to be reported in ClinicalTrials.gov.

Environmental health and safety

  • Do you have lab staff with unique knowledge? If so, is it possible to cross-train other staff?
  • Does your lab operate machines that use active cooling through liquid gasses, dry boxes, or inert boxes using gas blankets? What would happen if materials like liquid gasses, CO2, nitrogen, or dry ice become unavailable?
  • How frequently are you saving or freezing samples of cell cultures? Do you have long-term experiments that might benefit from more frequent preservation?
  • Do you have the requisite local knowledge to do controlled shutdowns of complex machines or devices, such as NMRs, without on-site help from the vendor?
  • Have you shared the locations and amounts of materials that are air-, water-, or otherwise-unstable with the following for observation in case of lab closure:

Resources

Please note that as of now, Research & Innovation and all its sub-units are operating as usual. Should Miami University enact optional or mandatory remote work, we will keep our research community informed about subsequent effects on our operations.


Updated 03/12/2020 at 11:59am to replace link to NSF “Dear Colleague” letter with link to webpage with comprehensive information about NSF’s response to coronavirus.

COVID-19 images by U.S. Army and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).