This illustration, created at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), reveals ultrastructural morphology exhibited by coronaviruses. The illness caused by this virus has been named coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Credit: Courtesy of TNS

Research at Ohio State continues in new ways and at new locations, as only critical research that requires a lab is allowed to be conducted on campus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Office of Research awarded $263,000 April 8 in its first round of expedited seed funding to get new COVID-19-related research at the university off the ground. Meanwhile, salaries and benefits continue to be drawn from awards for ongoing studies now being conducted remotely as researchers combine resources, Dawn Larzelere, spokesperson for the office, said.

“Things have changed, but in the research space, there’s still research going on at Ohio State,” Larzelere said. “In many cases, it’s just being done differently.”

In 2019, Ohio State research expenditures reached a record-breaking $929 million, University President Michael V. Drake said at his Jan. 30 State of the University address, $158 million of which was industry-sponsored.

COVID-19 preventative research, medical research that would endanger the lives of participants if discontinued and experiments that require “timely and regular attention” in person to maintain lab infrastructure are the only projects allowed to be conducted on campus, Morley Stone, senior vice president for research, said in a mid-March letter to Ohio State’s deans and associate deans for research. 

Drake announced March 12 that classes would be transitioned online through the end of spring semester and campus would close for all nonessential functions. He announced April 3 that university events through July 6 were canceled.

Decisions on whether a project could continue on campus were made at the college level, Larzelere said. Most other research is now being conducted remotely.

Michael Neblo, a professor of political science and director of the Institute for Democratic Engagement and Accountability at Ohio State, is one of the researchers working from home.

Neblo was one of the first award recipients from the COVID-19 research seed fund. He received $49,600 to study how elected officials’ political affiliations affect how receptive their constituents are to public health information they provide — a topic similar to what he was already studying outside the realm of public health.

“The old project is still kind of going forward. It’s just on pause,” Neblo said. “The grant from OSU will really help me pursue this similar kind of thing but with a COVID focus and a bipartisan focus.”

The proposal process for these awards was significantly shorter than for a typical research grant, Neblo said.

“It was actually completely remarkable,” Neblo said. “If you had [a proposal] in by noon on Friday, they let you know about the following Wednesday, which is the fastest turnaround I’ve ever heard of.”

The window of time to turn in these proposals is also different, Larzelere said. The Office of Research’s website says proposals will be accepted on a rolling basis through April 30, and proposals submitted by noon Friday will be reviewed and answered by Wednesday. She said the entire awarding process is lasting days rather than the typical months.

Neblo’s study was one of six projects awarded by the COVID-19 seed fund April 8, Lazelere said. 

Two projects focus on how the virus spreads and can be interrupted. A study from the College of Medicine will analyze how long-term exposure to the virus affects the severity of the infection. A fifth project focuses on how policy responses during COVID-19 will affect workers of different demographics, and a sixth study will evaluate how stress during COVID-19 affects parenting and child abuse.

The money from these grants cannot support faculty salary but can include staff and student nontuition stipends, according to the Office of Research’s website.

Researchers who draw salary and benefits from existing award funds can continue to do so, Larzelere said.

The federal government is allowing researchers to charge salaries and benefits to active executive-agency grants, Margaret Weichert, deputy director for management in the federal Office of Management and Budget, said in a memo to the heads of executive departments and agencies.

Larzelere said the same applies to researchers working from home on grants from Ohio State’s industry sponsors.

“We continue to work with industry sponsors to ensure that salary and benefits are being charged, as well,” Larzelere said.

Some researchers at the university are providing the Ohio agricultural community with weather and climate information from their homes by accessing the Byrd Climate and Research Center remotely, Larzelere said.

“They do statewide monitoring to provide information for our agricultural community to determine when they should be planting crops, when they should apply fertilizer, etc., when they should harvest,” Larzelere said. “That’s all done through remote sensing.”

The Office of Research has also launched, a website that allows departments and individual researchers to post what COVID-19-related projects are being conducted and what resources they need to move forward. Fellow departments and individual researchers are then able to offer both physical resources and expertise in response.

At the time of publication, the website had 48 projects listed and 86 people offering resources and services.

“Research is just being done differently, and thanks to technology we’re still able to do it,” Larzelere said.