U of L researchers from various departments help combat COVID-19 Friday, Apr 3 2020 

–By Eli Hughes

The University of Louisville announced April 3 the actions its researchers are taking to respond to COVID-19, which includes actions from the school of medicine, the school of public health, the school of social work and J.B. Speed School of Engineering.

These U of L departments are manufacturing kits used in COVID-19 testing, manufacturing personal protective equipment, disinfecting N-95 masks and working on ways to contact trace the spread of the virus.

“There is an incredible amount of work and I am really proud of researchers we have here who have really responded incredibly well to this crisis and the need for all of these types of activities,” said Kevin Gardner, the executive vice president of research for U of L, in the April 3 U of L trustee’s meeting, which was held virtually.

The Speed School has partnered with the School of Medicine to create and distribute swab kits. The lack of these kits is a limiting factor to widespread COVID-19 testing, so U of L hopes that this contribution can make it possible to increase the amount of testing.

Researchers at the Speed School are also manufacturing face shields, which medical professionals can use to protect themselves when they are in contact with COVID-19 patients. These masks will be distributed not only to hospitals in Kentucky but across the country to places where the virus is spreading more rapidly such as New York.

U of L has also developed a process for sanitizing N-95 masks, which are the medical-grade masks that have been valuable resources since the beginning of this outbreak. Gardner has said their facilities will be able to sanitize 10,000 N-95 masks a day.

The Schools of Public Health and Social Work are responding to the COVID-19 outbreak by helping with contact tracing. This means they are helping identify who might have come into contact with individuals who have tested positive for COVID-19.

This action can help prevent the spread of the virus by quickly isolating those who have been in contact with the virus.

More information on U of L’s research can be found on the U of L research website.

File Graphic//The Louisville Cardinal

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U of L researches treatment for COVID-19 using protein grown in tobacco Thursday, Apr 2 2020 

By Eli Hughes —

Researchers at the University of Louisville are working on a possible treatment for COVID-19 that uses a protein grown in tobacco.

This treatment is being designed as a preventative nasal spray that researchers are hoping will reach human clinical trials by the end of the year.

Kenneth Palmer, director of U of L’s Center for Predictive Medicine for Biodefense and Emerging Infectious Diseases, said that the protein active in the treatment was first studied by his team for its usefulness in preventing HIV.

“We knew that this protein had very good activity against HIV and we wondered some years ago whether it would have activity against other viruses,” Palmer said. “One group of viruses that we were interested in were SARS-Coronavirus.”

Palmer’s group found that this protein was successful in inhibiting many different strains of the coronavirus. Now, almost 15 years later, they wondered if this protein would be successful in preventing the newest strain of the coronavirus, COVID-19.

“We got the virus into our labs,” Palmer said, “And tested to see if the protein would also inhibit the new coronavirus, SARS-coronavirus II, and indeed it does.”

“So, now we are using our tobacco produced product to inhibit the new coronavirus.”

The protein works by binding to the sugar structures that many viruses have on their surfaces. This prevents the virus from replicating.

Palmer says that his team chose to use a lab rat relative of tobacco to grow this protein because tobacco produces the protein well and it is easy to extract.

Palmer has 15 years of experience working with proteins in tobacco plants. He says that Kentucky’s experience with growing tobacco and the enviroment suitable for growing the plant in Kentucky makes it a good choice.

The researchers are now applying for funding to get their treatment into a human clinical trial. Palmer says that their nasal spray could be available before a vaccine becomes available.

Even if this treatment comes out after a vaccine it could still be valuable to public health by combatting other types of the coronavirus.

“Over the last 15 years or so we’ve had three serious public health concerns from the coronavirus,” said Palmer. “And our product is active against all coronaviruses while a vaccine will tend to be more specific to a single coronavirus strain.”

Research is currently being conducted in U of L’s Regional Biocontainment Laboratory and strict safety measures are being upheld to ensure the safety of the researchers.

File Graphic // The Louisville Cardinal

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Green energy researcher at U of L wins grant Sunday, Feb 2 2020 

By Matthew Keck —

Joshua Spurgeon, a University of Louisville renewable energy researcher, won the National Science Foundation (NSF) CAREER Award. Along with the award, he will receive a $500,000 grant from the NSF that will go towards research and education over the next five years.

Spurgeon is theme leader for solar fuels at the Conn Center for Renewable Energy Research in the J.B. School of Engineering. “The basic concept is to find ways to direct the energy of sunlight to run electrochemical reactions such as water-splitting to make clean fuels like hydrogen,” he said.

His research is geared towards increasing energy independence and sustainability of society. “Specifically, making clean fuels like H2, which have no CO2 emissions when used, are a way to have energy-dense storage of solar energy,” said Spurgeon. “This H2 could be used in fuel cells for onsite electricity generation for utilities, or it could be used for transportation applications, or it can be a clean feedstock in the chemical industry. But it is a way to store intermittent solar energy so that it can be used at any time, like when the sun isn’t shining.”

Spurgeon said the grant will be used to research microparticles capable of spontaneously splitting water under illumination. “We will improve the design of these particles, verify their performance capabilities, and study their behavior under different conditions,” he said. “We will also study and try to improve a whole system, which would be a slurry of these solar water-splitting particles suspended in water.”

In addition to the research aspect of the grant, some of it will go towards education. “The educational part of the grant involves helping to develop a new master’s program in energy and materials science, bringing in underrepresented students for research internships, and getting more senior graduate students into entrepreneurial education to help them commercialize their successes,” said Spurgeon.

To be considered for this award, Spurgeon had to submit a proposal detailing the research he would conduct over the five years and education initiatives to tie students into the work. He is unique in winning this award because he is non-faculty, placing him among a small group of recipients like himself.

He has been researching the solar fuels field since earning his PhD from the California Institute of Technology in 2010. Before coming to U of L in 2014, he worked at the Joint Center for Artificial Photosynthesis, researching solar fuels.

Photo Courtesy of The University of Louisville 

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U of L research funding highest since 2012 Friday, Jul 19 2019 

By Matthew Keck —

The University of Louisville announced its most successful year of securing research funding since 2012 on July 18. The Office of the Executive Vice President for Research and Innovation (EVPRI) showed preliminary numbers that U of L faculty received $152 million in competitive awards last fiscal year. This is a $14 million increase from the last year.

The EVPRI is responsible for this increase. “We provided grant writing and preparation support on a select number of grants, which increased the competitiveness of some grant applications,” said Robert Keynton, U of L’s interim executive vice president for research and innovation.

From 2018 to 2019, U of L conducted research on e-cigarettes, gum disease, robots and sexual assault. The grants received made this type of research possible for the university.

“This is great news for our community and those touched by U of L’s research in medicine, education, engineering, art and countless other disciplines,” Keynton said. “Our faculty work tirelessly to secure the funding needed to explore, test and translate that research, so it can change, improve and even save lives.”

Among the projects that received grants:

  • $18.1 million/5 years from the National Institutes of Health for a biomedical research center. Professor Nigel Cooper in Anatomical Science/Neurobiology runs the center. The main purpose of the center is to build a capacity for bioinformatics to serve the needs of Kentucky genomics researchers. Bioinformatics is a field that develops software to better understand biological data.
  • $1.5 million from the National Science Foundation to develop a small additive manufacturing platform using microrobots and 3D printing. Speed School of Engineering professor Dan Popa secured the grant. Popa directs the Next Generation Systems robotics lab.
  • $1.5 million from the Kentucky Department of Education to support systems for improving students’ academic and behavioral outcomes in every Kentucky school district. College of Education and Human Development faculty Terry Scott received the grant.

To help U of L stay competitive in research fields the EVPRI plans to continue support of the internal grant programs in place. Additionally, they plan to add a new program to support multidisciplinary team projects across the university.

All of the research U of L departments did were funded by grants. U of L faculty received a preliminary total of 950 grants from federal and state governments along with private sources. Keynton said that the U of L School of Medicine received the majority of extramural funding.

Photo Courtesy of The University of Louisville

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