COVID-19 Research Projects

In immediate response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Virginia Tech faculty, staff, and students have initiated numerous research projects in an effort to support the local community and to affect humanity on a global scale.

Below is a summary of projects and Virginia Tech researchers are leading.

Contact Lindsey Haugh, Director of Marketing and Communications for the Office of Research and Innovation, to provide information about ongoing COVID-related research projects at Virginia Tech not listed. 

Data Science and Modeling

data science and modeling

Modeling and computer simulations of epidemic outbreaks, social distancing measures, disease resurgence, and effective non-pharmaceutical control strategies

  • Uwe C. Täuber
    Professor of Physics and Faculty of Health Sciences, College of Science
    Director, Center for Soft Matter and Biological Physics
  • Lauren M. Childs
    Assistant Professor of Mathematics, College of Science
  • Matthias Chung
    Associate Professor of Mathematics, College of Science
    Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Program, Academy of Integrated Science
  • Omar Saucedo
    Assistant Professor of Mathematics, College of Science 

After an epidemic outbreak has been contained through non-pharmaceutical interventions, a safe protocol is required for easing social distancing restrictions in order to prevent a disastrous resurgence of the infection. We perform computer simulations of various stochastic susceptible-infectious-recovered epidemic models on different network architectures wherein contact and mobility constraints are implemented. The goal is to design local, targeted, and effective control mechanisms that reduce spread of the infection while minimizing the need for social distancing measures.

Open source research for modeling virus

The Molecular Sciences Software Institute has launched an open-source website, the COVID-19 Molecular Structure and Therapeutics Hub, that will allow biomolecular scientists from around the world to share computer-aided drug-testing simulations targeting the protein at the center of COVID-19.

Repurposing existing drugs for COVID-19

  • T. M. Murali
    Professor of Computer Science, College of Engineering
    Associate Program Director, Computational Tissue Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program
  • Padma Rajagopalan
    The Robert E. Hord, Jr. Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
    Director, Computational Tissue Engineering Interdisciplinary Graduate Education Program
  • Simon Kasif
    Professor of Biomedical Engineering
    Boston University
  • Marc Crovella
    Professor of Computer Science
    Boston University
  • Judith Klein-Seetharaman
    Associate Professor of Chemistry
    Colorado School of Mines
  • Meghana Kshirsagar
    Researcher, AI for Good Lab
    Microsoft Research

The COVID-19 pandemic has galvanized scientists to develop cures for the disease. Since a virus must necessarily co-opt host cellular processes in order to replicate, a promising approach is to develop or repurpose drugs that target human proteins required by the virus. The multi-institution team is developing a computational, network-based, drug repositioning strategy to prioritize existing, approved drugs as anti-COVID-19 agents. Even in the early stages of this research, the team has independently identified several drugs that are in clinical trials for COVID-19.

Epidemiology and Infectious Disease

COVID-19

Establishment of a SARS-CoV-2 reverse genetics system to facilitate COVID-19 research

  • James Weger-Lucarelli
    Research Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Nisha Duggal
    Assistant Professor of Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology, Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine; Fralin Life Sciences Institute

SARS-CoV-2 is currently causing a worldwide pandemic and has caused over one million human infections. Vaccines and antivirals are urgently needed to combat this threat, and the viral genetics that resulted in this outbreak must be identified. A reverse genetics system for SARS-CoV-2 must be established to perform this work. Furthermore, a mouse model that recapitulates human disease and is readily available to researchers is imperative for in vivo studies of vaccine efficacy, antiviral therapeutics, and viral pathogenesis. To address these needs, the research team will establish a reverse genetics system for SARS-CoV-2 that can serve as the basis for vaccine design and studying viral mutations associated with COVID-19 severity and viral transmission.

Human Factors

human factors

Analysis of alcohol and reckless driving related crashes as a result of the "stay at home" directive

  • Kathleen Hancock
    Associate Professor in the Via Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Rauful Islam
    Civil and Environmental Engineering doctoral student
  • Ian McManus
    Civil and Environmental Engineering undergraduate student

As a result of the "stay at home" directive by Gov. Northam, the number of vehicle crashes has reduced. Virginia Tech researchers have partnered with Virginia DMV to understand this reduction and to identify driver and pedestrian behaviors and their consequences as a result of the pandemic. Preliminary findings indicate that although the number of crashes has reduced, a greater percentage of these crashes involve alcohol. Another disturbing consequence of reduced traffic on the roads is the apparent increase in speeds and reckless driving of some drivers. The team will evaluate whether and how this translates to increased numbers of speed-related crashes and crash severity.

Impact of COVID-19 in adolescents with and without ADHD

  • Rosanna Breaux
    Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Science
  • Stephen Becker
    Associate Professor of Behavioral Medicine and Clinical Psychology,
    Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center
  • Joshua Langberg
    Professor of Psychology
    Virginia Commonwealth University
  • Melissa Dvorsky
    Postdoctoral scholar, School of Medicine
    University of California, San Francisco
  • Emma Scibberras
    Associate Professor, School of Psychology
    Deakin University

At best, the COVID-19 crisis is confusing, disruptive, and inconvenient. For many the situation poses not only the physical risk of the COVID-19 virus itself, but also the mental health, social, behavioral, and economic risks that accompany the crisis and its associated consequences. The experience and its consequences are likely to be particularly magnified and salient in youth with pre-existing mental health and neurodevelopmental risk, such as attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

The primary goal of the proposed study is to leverage an already-recruited longitudinal sample of 260 adolescents with and without ADHD who reside in Virginia, Ohio, and Kentucky to examine COVID-19-related adjustment. Specifically, this study seeks to identify predictors of COVID-19-related coping and resilience among adolescents and their families, examine the immediate and short-term impact of the COVID-19 crisis for adolescent adjustment; and explore whether adjustment, coping, and predictors differ for adolescents with and without ADHD.

Privacy in the age of pandemics

  • France Bélanger
    R. B. Pamplin Professor and the Tom and Daisy Byrd Senior Faculty FellowPamplin College of Business
  • Katherine Allen
    Professor of Human Development and Family Science, College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences
  • Robert E. Crossler
    Associate Professor and Chair Management
    Information Systems, and Entrepreneurship Department,
    Washington State University

Virginia Tech researchers are analyzing the long-term implications, both positive and negative, of contact tracing, with a particular emphasis on information privacy. The team is working on three sub-projects involving: the future of information privacy to probe for how COVID-19 is changing this future, a study of the use of Smart Home Speakers (SHS; i.e. Amazon Echo, Google Home, etc.) in family environments, focusing on the effects of the Stay at Home executive order, and lastly, developing a large-scale study to further understand citizens’ views of contact tracing and its long-term effects.

Risk and behavior in response to digital information during the COVID-19 crisis

  • Shalini Misra
    Associate Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban Studies
  • Kris Wernstedt
    Professor of Urban Affairs and Planning, College of Architecture and Urban Studies

In this project funded by an NSF RAPID grant, the researchers are investigating how risk perceptions, risk preferences, stated behavior, and actual behavior change in response to digital information during the COVID-19 crisis, in a high-stress context of spatial distancing and over a prolonged period.

Risk and protective factors for coping during the COVID-19 Crisis

  • Rosanna Breaux
    Assistant Professor of Psychology, College of Science
  • Thomas Ollendick
    University Distinguished Professor, Department of Psychology, College of Science

This study seeks to follow-up families who previously completed a comprehensive child assessment through the Child Study Center at Virginia Tech. Pre-COVID-19 data will enable us to assess risk and protective factors for coping during the COVID-19 crisis. The sample is uniquely suited to assess such factors among a large, representative sample, as families represent a range of socioeconomic backgrounds and a range of geographic locations (urban, suburban, exurban, rural), with a large portion of rural, Appalachian families. Examination of risk and protective factors among an already at-risk sample (i.e., families with children who have mental health and/or academic difficulties) will ensure greater variability in these factors, allowing for more robust analyses and a larger impact on families who may be most affected by the pandemic.

Teleworking in a highly chaotic home: Implications for the transition back to work and school

The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted all areas of life, particularly how we work and educate our children. The experience of teleworking is particularly stressful for parents of school-age children, who are balancing telework with parenting and educating their children. The primary goal of the proposed study is to leverage an already-recruited longitudinal sample of working parents of school-age children with mental health and academic problems, to examine the impact of COVID-19 on employee well-being and job performance while teleworking and in the transition back to work as usual. Given the merger of home and professional lives inherent in teleworking, the COVID-19 crisis is an opportune time to examine individual, child, and situational predictors of occupational functioning and well-being in a vastly understudied population of working parents.

 

Infection Control

Infection Control

Coatings to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus

  • William Ducker
    Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Saeed Behzadinasab
    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student, College of Engineering
  • Mohsen Hosseini
    Chemical engineering Ph.D. student, College of Engineering
  • Xu Feng
    Scientist Manager, Surface Analysis Laboratory, College of Science
  • Leo Poon
    Professor of Medicine, University of Hong Kong

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is viable on a solid for up to one week, which means that there is a danger of obtaining an infection from an inanimate object. Virginia Tech researchers are developing coatings that will inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus. These coatings could be applied to communal objects such as door handles and shopping carts, and are being tested for their ability to inactivate the SARS-CoV-2 virus in the laboratory of Professor Leon Poon at the University of Hong Kong.

Personal Protective Equipment

human factors; car crashes

Evaluation of alternative mask materials + sterilized N95 respirators

  • Linsey Marr
    Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Matt Hull
    Associate Director of NanoEarth; Innovation and Entrepreneurship Program Manager, Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science

Marr is conducting ongoing experiments to test the efficacy of N95 respirators after they've gone through various sterilization techniques. Marr and her graduate students are evaluating how well the respirators retain their efficacy in filtering particles following sterilization with techniques including ethylene oxide, a method requested for testing by leadership at Carilion Clinic, and hydrogen peroxide vapor. Marr is also testing the efficacy of alternative mask materials available off the shelf, like the Hanes Beefy-T, felt, Shop-Vac bags, HVAC filters, auto rags, and microfiber cloth. Hull coordinated collection and safe distribution of materials to Marr's lab for testing.

3D printed mask evaluation

  • Linsey Marr
    Charles P. Lunsford Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Chris Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab

Marr is evaluating 3D-printed mask designs for evaluation of their efficacy in filtering particles, including the first FDA-approved 3D-printed mask. If the latter passes her tests, Williams' team will move to produce them en masse.

Conformal face shield design

  • Edmundo Rubio
    Chief of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine, Carilion Clinic
  • Liam Chapin
    Engineering undergraduate student; manager, FASER lab
  • Erik Komendera
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, FASER lab

Rubio has devised a means of creating PPE from an ambu bag mask and HEPA virus filter that is reusable and can easily be cleaned via disinfectant wipe. However, the new design does not fit under existing face shields. The FASER lab team is working to design a new face shield that includes 3D-printed headbands and laser cut plastic film to conform around this new configuration of mask and filter.

Face shields design and production

  • Alex Leonessa
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, Terrestrial Robotic Engineering and Controls Laboratory
  • Liam Chapin
    Engineering undergraduate student; member, Field and Space Experimental Robotics Laboratory
  • Erik Komendera
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering

The team is organizing the mass production of face shields after rapidly prototyping 15 designs and reviewing them with staff from Carilion Clinic and Lewis Gale Hospital.

Production of sterilizable HEPA filter shells

  • Chris Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab
  • Logan Sturm
    Mechanical Engineering graduate student

Due to supply concerns, local doctors are in need of reusable (sterilizable) housings for respirator circuit HEPA filters. This project team is researching 3-D printing of autoclavable materials (e.g., fused deposition modeling of ULTEM) to fabricate these requested parts. The HEPA shell design features a double ring and snap-together assembly. Once a design is finalized, this team could potentially produce up to 200 shells per week.

Policy

Policy Covid

COVID disrupts aquaculture industry and spurs economic loss nationwide

  • Jonathan van Senten
    Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
    Extension Specialist, Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Research and Extension Center
    Affiliate faculty member, Center for Coastal Studies
  • Matthew Smith
    Extension Aquaculture Program Director
    College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences, Ohio State University 
A Virginia Tech and Ohio State University collaboration, van Senten and Smith are gathering survey responses from national seafood producers at the end of each quarter in 2020 to assess the short- and long-term impacts that COVID-19 is having on the aquaculture industry. Research findings include regional information in addition to data about specific species groups, such as mollusks, catfish, trout, among others. Results are being shared with state and federal agencies to measure economic impact.

Global health agenda setting in response to COVID-19

  • Stephanie Smith
    Associate Professor of Public Policy and Administration, College of Architecture and Urban Studies

This project uses the novel coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic to explore a model for conceptualizing and measuring the global health agenda in supranational arenas. In particular, Smith is investigating how governments receive information, set polices, allocate resources, and prioritize responses, as well as how international entities and organizations (infectious disease researchers, pharmaceutical companies, and media) influence those processes.

Testing

testing

3D printing nasal swabs

  • Marc Michel
    Associate Professor of Geosciences, College of Science
  • Carla Finkielstein
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, College of Science; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Mike Bortner
    Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Dave Dillard
    The Adhesive and Sealant Science Professor of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics, College of Engineering

In order to ramp up COVID-19 testing, researchers are working to fabricate nasal swabs using inverse stereolithography 3D printing. Leveraging designs from the University of South Florida, the project team is currently conducting test prints and tensile tests.

Development of new COVID-19 tests to combat backlogs, shortages in Virginia

  • Carla Finkielstein
    Associate Professor of Biological Sciences, College of Science; Fralin Life Sciences Institute
  • Michael Friedlander
    Executive Director, Fralin Biomedical Research Institute at VTC; Vice President of Health Sciences and Technology
  • Harald Sontheimer
    Professor and Commonwealth Eminent Scholar in Cancer Research at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute; Professor of Neuroscience, College of Science

Virginia Tech scientists have a developed a new COVID-19 test and secured federal and state approvals to immediately begin processing samples at on-campus labs in Blacksburg and Roanoke. Faculty research leaders and their teams will support local health departments throughout the region to provide timely analysis to identify patients suspected of having COVID-19 — a critical step in the process of slowing the pandemic in Virginia.

Treatment

20181204_FluShots_OC_0009

Upgrading BiPAP machines

  • Joseph Meadows
    Assistant Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering

  • Christopher Williams
    Professor of Mechanical Engineering in the College of Engineering; Director, DREAMS lab
  • Al Wicks
    Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, College of Engineering
  • Edmundo Rubio
    Chief of Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine, Carilion Clinic; Professor of Medicine at Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine

To address potential ventilator shortages, mechanical engineers at Virginia Tech have partnered with Carilion Clinic pulmonology division to upgrade bilevel positive airway pressure (BiPAP) machines, commonly used for treating sleep apnea, for use as low-level ventilators. The engineers added a smart monitoring system that detects air flow rate, calculates volume, and triggers an alarm system to prevent overinflation and give physicians peace of mind.