Rice Establishes COVID-19 Research Fund

As part of a coordinated effort to combat COVID-19, Rice University has established a research accelerator fund to support projects -- in biomedicine, engineering, social sciences, humanities and other fields – intended to help end the pandemic and prepare for similar outbreaks in the future.

The COVID-19 research fund is open to Rice faculty working on coronavirus-related projects. The fund will be highly flexible and allow faculty to access supplies and other resources immediately needed by research groups. It will also develop partnerships with Houston’s city government and the Texas Medical Center to support projects designed to help the community deal with both the immediate and long term effects of this global crisis.

“Rice University constantly strives to be part of the solution when we face critical challenges, whether those are local, national or global.” Rice President David Leebron said. “We are committed to doing what we can, through research and education, to empower our home city and to improve human welfare around the globe.”

“This is a university-wide effort,” said Yousif Shamoo, vice provost for research and a professor of biosciences. “We have projects that can help right now and projects that can help us in the future as we recover from this pandemic and prepare against future ones.”

Rice has set a goal of $1 million for research funding. The university has immediately allocated $500,000 and will seek to raise an equal amount from donors to achieve the $1 million goal. In addition, federal funds are expected to underwrite many COVID-19 related research efforts, including those initially supported through the university. The fund will be overseen by a faculty committee and the university’s Office of Research.

“We cannot wait for the traditional ways of getting research funding from the federal government,” said Shamoo. “Unfortunately, this will not be the last major pandemic of this century, so we must learn from this and better prepare for the future.”

The university also announced that it will work with nearby hospitals to provide health care workers with housing in two student residential buildings on Rice’s campus, which is adjacent to the Texas Medical Center.

“In response to the needs of the hospitals and the brave medical personnel working to minimize the toll this disease will take in Houston, Rice will offer temporary housing for medical personnel who work in Texas Medical Center hospitals,” Leebron said. “Enabling hospital staff to live nearby will give them a greater opportunity for rest and to work needed hours.”

The university’s COVID-19 response website will detail how the university is responding to the crisis. The site will keep the Rice community informed about current COVID-19-related projects and provide alumni and other donors with a way to contribute funds to the research program.

Even while they work and study from home, Rice faculty, students and staff have been responding to the crisis in many ways over the past month, much like they did in response to Hurricane Harveyin 2017, Leebron said.

The Office of Research approved more than a dozen new research projects whose work is dedicated entirely to the COVID-19 response. Participants already include teams from the George R. Brown School of Engineering, Wiess School of Natural Sciences, School of Humanities and School of Social Sciences.

A Brown School of Engineering team worked day and night refining an automated bag valve mask ventilator created by a student team last year. The revamped device has now been made an open-source project,with detailed plans available to both the maker community and manufacturers around the globe. It costs less than $300 to build.

The Department of Bioengineering has organized a BIOE+COVID-19 working group, co-chaired by assistant professor Jerzy Szablowski and Rebecca Richards-Kortum, Malcolm Gillis University Professor and director of the Rice 360° Institute for Global Health.

Rice’s Data Science Initiative has also offered its extensive expertise in data science and data analytics to the Houston community to help fight COVID-19. Information about the initiative has can be found at https://datascience.rice.edu/covid-19. And the Data to Knowledge (D2K)lab, working together with the Rice DataSci Club, is sponsoring a student competition to use data science and computing skills to bring a deeper analysis of the spread and impact of COVID-19 in Houston.

The Kinder Institute for Urban Research is working on several initiatives, including a study on the impact of COVID-19 on cities, especially Houston. It will also expand its “Disaster Recovery Tracker” monitoring how effectively public and philanthropic dollars in response to the crisis are being invested. Kinder’s Houston Education Research Consortium is leading Gulf Coast Coronavirus Community Impact Survey in partnership with the Harris County Long-Term Recovery Committee, Harvey Home Connect and the Greater Houston Community Foundation, as well as an assessment of the critical needs facing the Houston Independent School District.

Kinder is also partnering with the Rice-based Children’s Environmental Health Initiative to launch a COVID-19 registry in the style of the Texas Flood Registry initiated after Hurricane Harvey. The new registry, created in collaboration with local health departments, tracks the spread and impact of COVID-19, as well as uptake of suppression measures across geography and in real time.

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