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College of Medicine ramps up COVID-19 research

Image with caption: Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of research and development, UNMC College of Medicine

Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of research and development, UNMC College of Medicine

The UNMC College of Medicine is sending an all-hands rapid response request to its faculty to get to work on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Regardless of their current field of study, the college has asked its finest minds to immediately turn to addressing and mitigating the cause and consequences of the current health emergency. Because of the urgency of this pandemic, COM faculty were urged to put forth their best ideas that can lead to tangible accomplishments within a short time.

And in order to catalyze and energize research, the COM and its dean's office have established College of Medicine COVID-19 Rapid Response Grants to get promising projects off the ground right away.

"We have the expertise to tackle this, and we can contribute," said Howard Fox, M.D., Ph.D., senior associate dean of research and development.

"Instead of submitting an NIH (National Institutes of Health) grant and waiting six months or so, they can start right off," Dr. Fox said. The College of Medicine and dean's office has found significant funds within its budget to support a spectrum of COVID-19 projects -- basic, translational and clinical. Projects could be studies on the virus itself, diagnostic modalities or implementation, therapeutics, prevention, utilization of samples collected from subjects, and work, including clinical research, that can inform safety as well as real-time decision making for professionals tasked with care of patients.

Biostatistical analysis will be obtained by the Center for Collaboration on Research Design and Analysis (CCORDA).

When they say rapid they mean rapid: proposals were announced on April 27 and due May 4. Even in this short time span 50 proposals were turned in, many by teams of faculty working together. The first funding decisions are expected to be announced within a week. Review will be internal, but seeking external opinions, with final decisions made by senior leadership in the dean's office.

Dr. Fox said that Bradley Britigan, M.D., dean of the College of Medicine, himself an infectious disease physician and researcher, is an enthusiastic supporter of the initiative.

Dr. Britigan said he was aware of the challenges of quickly initiating new research ideas.

"Unfortunately, most national level funding requires some type of preliminary data to support the concept," he said. "Given the urgency of the COVID-19 pandemic and the research talent that exists among faculty in the College of Medicine, the decision to provide support from the college so our faculty and their research teams can accelerate development of their ideas is a wise investment of college resources.

"This effort will have a long-term benefit to UNMC, and, more importantly, a major impact on addressing the pandemic."

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