Tufts University and the Tufts Medical Center jointly established a seed funding program to mitigate the effects of the coronavirus; the program offers $300,000 in grants that are available to research teams across the university and medical center. The university hopes to fund six research projects, each of which will be allocated $50,000 to fund coronavirus research.
Caroline Genco, vice provost for research at Tufts University, and Errol Norwitz, chief scientific officer at the Tufts Medical Center, are overseeing the program.
Genco explained that the program was built to support research that ultimately will help the university manage the damaging effects of the pandemic.
“The COVID 19 Rapid Response Seed Funding Program represents a joint effort by Tufts University and Tufts Medical Center to support projects designed to help the community deal with both the immediate and long-term effects of the global crisis,” Genco wrote in an email to the Daily.
According to Norwitz, the hospital and university are each allocating $150,000 toward the program for a total of $300,000. He explained that half of the projects funded will be at the medical center, while the other half can come from any sector within the Tufts community, including graduate schools, the School of Engineering, or the School of Arts and Sciences.
“We’re trying to create synergy amongst the Tufts faculty members,” Norwitz said. “We want collaboration and ideally we want it within our family, but because the medical center is putting up half the money, we’d like the lead investigator to be at the medical center.”
The seed funding program can support a number of different research initiatives, Norwitz and Genco said.
“Based on the combined expertise of the University and the Medical Center, we foresee funding projects that leverage our unique constellation of resources, bringing together strengths across the disciplines,” Genco wrote.
Applicants have the opportunity of partnering with different community-based and non-profit organizations with a preference for those in Tufts’ host communities, according to Genco.
Norwitz suggested an app that tracks ventilators in a U.S. state or the discovery of a technique to sterilize N-95 masks as examples of potential projects.
“[Projects should be] ideally impactful at the level of the patient. That’s hard to do in six months, to find something that will really make a difference, but we hope people will come up with good ideas,” he said.
Genco emphasized that research projects from diverse subject areas are being considered.
“Areas under consideration include medicine and health care, public health, technology and model development, and societal impacts,” she said. “Projects that build on the strengths of diverse and interdisciplinary teams of three or more researchers are encouraged.”
According to Norwitz and Genco, a committee will decide which projects are funded. Applications are due on April 30 and will be funded by May 15.
“We have convened a panel of experts from both Tufts University and Tufts Medical Center. Together these reviewers will evaluate projects based on the probability of generating new knowledge and/or changing clinical practice (access to treatment and diagnosis),” Genco said.
Tufts is not alone in establishing such a program, according to Genco.
“Not only are universities and health care institutions offering similar programs, but most federal agencies have allocated specific funds in their budgets, supplemented by the CARES Act, to spur research and development in this space,” she said.
Genco added that the committee expects to receive a large number of applications.
“We believe we will receive a robust number of applications based on the remarkable response we’ve had across both our institutions,” Genco said.
She explained that the university and the medical center will fund research from both campuses to continue having a great impact.
“We will need to be strategic in making these awards. Part of our strategy includes funding as many applications from [Tufts Medical Center] as from [Tufts University] to ensure that our combined strengths are given the support they need to continue to have the impact for which [Tufts University] and [Tufts Medical Center] are known,” Genco said.
“We have incredible resources and smart people and we just want to get them to come forward,” Norwitz said.
Tufts Medical Center is not formally affiliated with Tufts, but it shares the university’s name and is the primary teaching hospital for the Tufts University School of Medicine.