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Three research projects earn Ohio State COVID-19 rapid response funding

Natalia Higuita-CastroHiguita-Castro

In early April, The Ohio State University launched a funding program for a series of research projects to rapidly address critical health and community problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. Through three rounds of funding, 24 projects were awarded over $770,000 from the Office of Research.

The seed funding is not only targeting research into the virus itself, but also social science investigations that examine everything from crisis communications during the pandemic to the impact on workers at all levels of the U.S. economy.

Three College of Engineering professors were awarded funding to begin pursuing their pandemic-related research topics.

Natalia Higuita-Castro, assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering, is the lead investigator for one of the round-three projects. Her research will use next-generation nanocarriers based on engineered extracellular vesicles (EVs) to deliver anti-inflammatory therapies to lungs injured by the novel coronavirus.

“Nature has this amazing method to produce these nanocarriers,” she said, “and what we do in my lab is to use nanotechnology to engineer them to deliver specific molecular cargo to the inflamed lung.”

Higuita-Castro, member of the Davis Heart and Lung Research Institute at the Ohio State’s Wexner Medical Center, is working with her collaborators on a treatment for COVID-19-induced acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), a life-threatening condition characterized by severe inflammation and damage of the lungs.

Carlos CastroCastro

“Your own immune system has to do the work and overcome the infection, but we are shifting that balance from a severe inflammatory state to a more balanced state, to potentially aid faster recovery and reduce lung damage,” she said.

Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering Associate Professor Carlos Castro is part of a team working to develop a rapid COVID-19 diagnostic assay that uses folded DNA nanostructures to bind to an RNA sequence contained in the COVID-19 genome. He has previously published research on DNA origami as a method to deliver drugs to cancer cells.

Daniel GingerichGingerichDaniel Gingerich, assistant professor in the Departments of Integrated Systems Engineering and Civil, Environmental and Geodetic Engineering, is leading a project to quantify employment effects and environmental burdens resulting from investments in infrastructure. His team will create an open-source tool enabling rapid assessment of the social benefits of infrastructure expenditures for energy and water systems, including stimulus spending in response to widespread unemployment due to COVID-19.

“Ohio State, with its multidisciplinary approach, is uniquely positioned to provide innovative solutions to combat the impacts of this global pandemic, and we want to do everything possible to support our outstanding researchers in these efforts,” said Morley O. Stone, senior vice president for research. “With these seed grants, we will quickly advance our understanding of COVID-19 and its impacts to help us better address the pandemic we’re facing around the world.”