UCOP Seed Grants Fund COVID-19 Research Projects

US Map of emergency orders
Relative timing of county-level COVID-19 emergency declarations in the United States from early (dark shading) to later (light shading). Michael Springborn, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy and Joakim Weill, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, are studying how local policies and income levels affect social distancing. Their work is being supported by a seed grant from the UC Office of the President. (Michael Springborn)

Faculty from the UC Davis School of Medicine and the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences have received seed funding from the UC Office of the President to launch research projects aimed at mitigating the impact of COVID-19.

In announcing the awards on June 3, UC President Janet Napolitano said: “This is a challenging time for our country and for those suffering from COVID-19. 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.”

A total of $2 million in seed funding was distributed to UC campuses, other institutions of higher education as well as private and nonprofit groups. The awards are from UCOP-based research grant programs and provide up to $25,000 in funding to each selected proposal.

The projects were approved for six months, after which researchers can apply for additional funds to continue their projects and build upon their research successes. UC Davis faculty members and their funded projects are listed below. A full list of the awards can be found here.


• Dennis Hartigan-O’Connor, an associate professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, will pursue vaccine strategies optimized for protecting the elderly, those with diabetes, and other high-risk groups. Such people can achieve sub-optimal levels of antibody production after vaccination and therefore may require uniquely powerful vaccine approaches. The study will explore a new COVID-19 strategy to elicit a robust antibody response despite poor functioning in other parts of the immune system.


• Brad Pollock, associate dean and chair of the Department of Public Health Sciences, and three other School of Medicine investigators, Stuart Cohen, Larissa May and Nam Tran, are studying the risk of infection with COVID-19 in health care workers and will track the antibody response to SARS-CoV-2 infection over time in relation to recovery. Study results will guide the development of evidence-based recommendations for when health care workers who have been infected with COVID-19 can safely return to work, minimizing workforce loss during the pandemic. 


• Michael Springborn, an associate professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy, and Joakim Weill, a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, are looking at how mandated social distancing measures have impacted patterns of mobility, unemployment and the spread of COVID-19 in the United States. Springborn and Weill will be able to provide credible estimates of the importance of state and local policies in general as well as how that response depends on community characteristics, like income. The data will be updated in real time during the course of the pandemic. A draft manuscript of initial findings is already under review and available upon request from Springborn and Weill.


• Mark Yarborough, Dean’s Professor of Bioethics in the Bioethics Program, has assembled an interdisciplinary team to study whether triaging scarce health resources — withholding care from some patients in order to provide it to patients thought to have a better chance of survival — actually achieves the desired outcomes. The study will use electronic health records to simulate the triage mechanism and will also look at whether triaging disproportionately hurts disadvantaged groups compared to a first-come, first-served approach.

UC Davis researchers also have received COVID-19 rapid response research grants from CITRIS and the Banatao Institute, and the UC Davis Office of Research.

Media Resources

Andy Fell, News and Media Relations, 530-752-4533, ahfell@ucdavis.edu

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