The University of California Wednesday announced the distribution of $2 million in seed funding for research across the state aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19, particularly among those at greater risk for infection and adverse outcomes, with projects at UCLA, UC Irvine, USC, City of Hope and Caltech among the seven dozen selected.

According to a UC statement, the funds were awarded to support rapid-response, high-impact research in vaccines, therapeutics, clinical management, epidemiology and other COVID-19 related areas.

In addition to UC campuses and other institutions of higher education, private and nonprofit groups in California received awards.

“This is a challenging time for our country and for those suffering from COVID-19,” said UC President Janet Napolitano. “With some of the world’s premier researchers and scientists working to find answers to this disease and ways to alleviate its impacts, UC is in a prime position to make a real difference for those most at-risk.”

The research award monies come from three statewide University of California Office of the President-based research grant programs focused on breast cancer, tobacco-related disease and HIV/AIDS, among other programs, and provide up to $25,000 in seed funding to each selected proposal.

The projects were approved for six months, after which time researchers can apply for additional funds to continue their projects and build upon their research successes.

In just under a month, nearly 400 research proposals were received and 85 of those were selected for funding. According to the UC statement, “a crucial consideration of selected applications was the ability of researchers to start work immediately, as COVID-19 continues to affect millions globally and requires urgent solutions.”

“Despite the challenges posed by shelter-in-place orders, researchers have already begun research in special protocol labs, at home working with digital models and electronically by surveying populations,” the statement says.

For example, investigators at UCI, using the X-rays of patients’ chests, are aiming to develop an artificial intelligence-based platform to predict COVID-19 outcomes.

A UCLA research team, in partnership with the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority, is seeking to develop an integrated package of outreach, data collection and modeling advancements to protect vulnerable homeless clients. As the team provides LAHSA with technical advice on methods for remote screening, they will also develop tools to measure the social distancing practices, hygiene, well-being and social isolation of clients.

“We recognize there is a compelling and dire need for COVID-19 research, especially for our more vulnerable populations. In coordination with our research program external advisory councils and others, we all agreed the right course of action was to promptly shift funds in various grant programs to meet that need,” said Theresa Maldonado, UC’s vice president of systemwide Research and Innovation.

“Older persons and those living with breast cancer, lung disease and diabetes face a disproportionate risk of mortality due to COVID-19, and our scientists, some of them jointly with non-UC collaborators, are well-positioned to help mitigate those risks head on.” she said.

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