Funding medical research can be difficult in the best of times – let alone during a pandemic.
But donations to the University of South Florida’s Pandemic Research and Response Fund are helping the school’s research teams and front-line workers combat the spread of the coronavirus.
Dr. Charles Lockwood, Dean of the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, says that while hospitals are busier than ever, elective procedures - their main revenue source - has disappeared.
“Our practice volume has been reduced by 90%,” said Lockwood. “So we don't have a lot of additional money coming from the clinical practice that we can divert to research purposes, which we normally would do.”
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But that didn’t stop the university from pursuing new, coronavirus-related research projects.
Amid a nationwide shortage of coronavirus test kits, USF researchers developed new 3D printed nasal swabs and viral collection kits.
In collaboration with Tampa General Hospital, university researchers are also developing a convalescent plasma therapy that uses plasma from COVID-19 survivors to help treat new patients.
To support university research initiatives, Tampa philanthropist Mary Pipino donated $25,000 to USF Health to create the Pandemic Research and Response Fund.
Pipino, a USF alumna, said she recognized the need for research-based testing and treatment options in order to conquer the virus and return to normalcy.
"Dr. Lockwood and (Associate Dean for Clinical Affairs) Dr. Mark Moseley are solution-oriented healthcare leaders and I want to support their efforts to conquer this virus and prevent future devastation such as this," said Pipino.
And Republican Senator Rick Scott donated $35,000, the equivalent of his first-quarter U.S. Senate salary, to the fund, citing the university’s research and training initiatives.
“Our nation is facing an unprecedented crisis. We, as Americans, have to come together to innovatively adapt and solve problems, and that’s exactly what USF Health is doing,” said Scott.
“Their work to quickly develop coronavirus testing supplies with 3D printing technology will help us ramp up testing efforts nationwide and curb the spread of the coronavirus now.”
Lockwood said that the donations of Pipino and Scott, as well as a surge of individual donations, support the university’s ongoing and future research initiatives.
“It gives us kind of a solid base for being able to do these kind of unusual research projects," said Lockwood. “We wouldn't normally have to create viral collection kits and invent viral collection swabs, but necessity is the mother of invention, and this is a way of helping us fund all that.”
Lockwood said that funding research initiatives now could mean that come next flu season when researchers believe there may be a resurgence of coronavirus cases, healthcare systems will be able to identify patients earlier and have an arsenal of available treatment options.