coronavirus solutions

15 more COVID-19 research projects receive funds from Houston university

Rice University identified 15 more pandemic-related research projects to receive support from a new research fund. Getty Images

Researchers at a Houston institution have been rewarded for their work that focuses on COVID-19 and how it's affected various aspects of life.

Rice University has named its two more rounds of recipients of its COVID-19 Research Fund — an initiative created to support projects that are innovating solutions and services amid the COVID-19 crisis. In April, the COVID-19 Research Fund Oversight and Review Committee — led by engineering professor and special adviser to the provost, Marcia O'Malley — selected four projects led by Rice faculty members across industries from biomedicine to humanities that will receive the first round of funds.

The committee named another round of recipients in May and the third and final round this month. Here are the projects from the last two rounds of grants:

  • Rapid point-of-care device to detect severe cases of COVID-19 by Kevin McHugh and Peter Lillehoj of Rice and Cassian Yee of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
  • A mobile phone-based blood serum test for COVID-19 antibodies by Lillehoj, Wen Hsiang Chen of Baylor College of Medicine and James Le Duc of Galveston National Laboratory. The mobile test would be faster and more precise.
  • A handbook addressing pandemic response initiatives for health officials by Kirsten Ostherr and Lan Li of Rice; Thomas Cole of the McGovern Medical School at the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston; Robert Peckham of Hong Kong University; and Sanjoy Bhattacharya of York University.
  • A look at COVID-19's effect on vehicle travel and electric power generation and air quality by Daniel Cohan and Daniel Kowal of Rice. Using both on-the-ground and satellite data, the researchers will look at various air pollutants.
  • A study on Harris County residents' compliance to stay-at-home orders by Flavio Cunha, Patricia DeLucia, Fred Oswald, Ekim Cem Muyan and E. Susan Amirian of Rice. The researchers will survey residents — particularly low-socioeconomic populations.
  • A look at how pollution and economics affect each other turing a pandemic-caused crisis by Sylvia Dee, Ted Loch-Temzelides, Caroline Masiello and Mark Torres of Rice. Thanks to stay-at-home initiatives, the study can look at which economic sectors contribute the most to carbon emissions.
  • A study on long-term effects of COVID-19 on human development by Fred Oswald of Rice, Rodica Damian and Tingshu Liu of the University of Houston and Patrick Hill of Washington University. The project looks at the pandemic's affect on social contexts including occupational, educational, community, family, lifestyle, health and financial.
  • A predictive model of Houston's COVID-19 condition by Daniel Kowal, assistant professor of statistics, and Thomas Sun, a graduate student, at Rice. The project will compare Houston to locations that are similar and further along the disease incidence curve.
  • A survey of how stay-at-home orders affected low-income families by Amelyn Ng, Wortham Fellow at Rice Architecture, and Gabriel Vergara of One Architecture and Urbanism. he survey will focus on Houston's Greater Fifth Ward.
  • Research on antibodies for disease prevention by Laura Segatori, associate professor of bioengineering and of chemical and bimolecular engineering and biosciences, and Omid Veiseh, assistant professor of bioengineering, at Rice. The two scientists plan to engineer cell lines for the rapid development of clinically translatable neutralizing antibodies for infection control.
  • An analysis of working conditions amid the pandemic by Danielle King, assistant professor of psychological sciences at Rice. King will look into both employees who can no longer go to the workplace, like teachers, and those required to, like nurses, to see what resources are most effective.
  • An oxygen sensing device by Michael Wong, department chair and a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, and Rafael Verduzco, associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, of Rice and John Graf of NASA. The team will continue working on a NASA-designed prototype ventilator for rapid deployment based on an off-the-shelf automotive oxygen sensor.
  • A study on social distancing for musicians by Ashok Veeraraghavan, Robert Yekovich and Ashutosh Sabharwal of Rice and John Mangum of the Houston Symphony. The project will look into airflow of wind instruments using high-speed imaging.
  • Looking into public health initiatives and their use in COVID-19 by Hulya Eraslan, Rossella Calvi, Dibya Deepta Mishra and Ritika Sethi of Rice. The team will look at election data with a goal is to understand the impact of political alignment across levels of government on the effectiveness of its response.
  • Research on optimizing nursing staff schedules by Andrew Schaefer, Illya Hicks and Joseph Huchette of Rice and Nicole Fontenot of Houston Methodist Hospital. Researchers will employ data and technology to improve forecasting demand for nursing staff.

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Building Houston

 
 

Koda Health, Houston, uses AI to help guide difficult conversations in health care, starting with end-of-life care planning. Image via kodahealthcare.com

A new Houston-based digital advanced care planning company is streamlining some of the most difficult conversations in the health care industry around palliative care.

Founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry, Koda Health uses AI to help patients create advance medical care directives and documents—such as a living will—through an easy to use web-based interface.

Koda Health uses a conversational platform where users can enter information about their values, living situations, quality of life wishes, and more while learning about different care options at their own speed. It also uses a proprietary machine learning approach that personalizes audio-video guided dialogue based on the patient's individual and cultural preferences.

The app then autogenerates legal and medical documents, which patients can notarize or electronically witness the forms through the app or on their own.

According to Fafanova, who earned her PhD in in Molecular Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston and now acts as the company's CEO, what historically has been a time consuming and expensive process, through Koda Health, takes an average of 17 minutes and is completely free of charge to the end user.

"We hope to reduce any outstanding barriers to access that might exist," Fafanova says. "It is very frequently the oldest and the poorest that are the highest utilizers of health care that don't have access to these solutions."

The app is also projected to save health care systems roughly $9,500 per patient per year, as it allows for hospitals and organizations to better plan for what their patient population is seeking in end-of-life-care.

The B2B platform was born out of the TMC's Biodesign Fellowship, which tasked Koda's founding members with finding solutions to issues surrounding geriatric care in the medical center. In March 2020, Koda incorporated. Not long after ICU beds began to fill with COVID-19 patients, "galvanizing" the team's mission, Fafanova says.

"It was no longer this conceptual thing that we needed to address and write a report on. Now it was that people were winding up in the hospital at alarming rates and none of those individuals had advanced care planning in place," she says.

After accelerating the development of the product, Koda Health is now being used by health care systems in Houston, Texas, and Virginia.

The company recently received a Phase I grant of $256,000 from the National Science Foundation, which will allow Koda to deploy the platform at Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist and test it against phone conversations with 900 patients. Fafanova says the company will also use the funds to continue to develop personalization algorithms to improve Kona's interface for users.

"We want to make this a platform that mimics a high quality conversation," she says.

After Koda completes the Phase I pilot program it will then be eligible to apply for a Phase II award of up to $1 million in about a year.

Koda Health was founded by Tatiana Fafanova, Dr. Desh Mohan, and Katelin Cherry. Photos via kodahealthcare.com

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