The VCU Student Commons.
VCU's Presidential Research Quest Fund awarded $438,498 this year to 16 research projects. (File photo)

‘The improvement of the human condition’: 16 research projects receive Quest Fund grants

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This year’s recipients of Presidential Research Quest Fund awards demonstrate Virginia Commonwealth University’s commitment to understanding the COVID-19 pandemic as well as to supporting a wide range of scholarly research among the school’s faculty.

Sixteen research projects were awarded $438,498 from the fund (and received additional funds from faculty schools and departments). The Presidential Research Quest Fund supports faculty projects that specifically align with the goals and key strategies presented in VCU’s Quest 2025: Together We Transform strategic plan. The fund’s goal is to allow faculty an opportunity to win internal funding to support new, emerging or continuing research.

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“Fund recipients for this year represent a diverse community of educators, researchers and creators who are dedicated to discovery, creation and the improvement of the human condition,” said VCU President Michael Rao, Ph.D. “Their breadth of knowledge and inquisitive nature will broaden horizons for all of us for generations to come. I look forward to witnessing the impact of their research, and I am grateful they are part of the VCU community.”

Ananda Amstadter, Ph.D., assistant professor in the Department of Psychiatry, won funding to examine the pandemic’s impact on the mental health, substance use and academic outcomes of VCU students. Assessments of some 900 “pandemic-era” students’ responses to the unprecedented stresses will be compared to pre-pandemic student data collected through the VCU Spit for Science study, run by co-investigator Danielle Dick, Ph.D.

Gregory Buck, Ph.D., professor in the Department of Microbiology and Immunology, leads a team of VCU colleagues to study the epidemiology and evolution of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID-19 and the human microbiome. The team will trace the evolution of the coronavirus among patients hospitalized in central Virginia and also examine the viral genomes and the respiratory and gut microbiomes of COVID-19 patients admitted to VCU Health to gain insight into how the virus changes and how factors such as age, gender, microbiome and race of the patient play a role in the severity and progression of the disease. 

Some of the other project topics awarded funding involve a cheap device, connected to the internet, to detect people in buildings; education of students with intellectual and developmental disabilities; textiles used in early Islamic burials in Egypt; stories from LGBTQIA+ artists and educators; and abuse of older adults, which continues to rise in Virginia.

“While we recognize these difficult times we experience amidst the pandemic, as researchers, we must also look to the future with hope for the many ways that VCU can help solve societal challenges,” said P. Srirama Rao, Ph.D., vice president for research and innovation. “VCU’s groundbreaking research, as demonstrated by the [Presidential Research Quest Fund] projects, is perhaps now more essential than ever.”

Other principal investigators awarded funding and their projects are:

  • Eyuphan Bulut, Ph.D., College of Engineering, “Device-Free Wi-Fi Sensing Based Occupancy Detection in Buildings”
  • Yana Cen, Ph.D., School of Pharmacy, “Transition State Analysis of Plasmodium Falciparum Sir2”
  • Carlos Escalante, Ph.D., School of Medicine, “Structural and Functional Studies of the AAV Packaging Machinery”
  • Chunqing Guo, Ph.D., School of Medicine, “Targeting Scavenger Receptor A for Treating Metastatic Breast Cancer”
  • Elsie Harper-Anderson, Ph.D., Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs, “Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Equity: The Role of Internal and External Organizational Factors”
  • Jiong Li, Ph.D., School of Pharmacy, “Novel Chemical Probes Targeting KDM3 Histone Demethylases Degradation to Suppress Wnt-Induced Oncogenesis in Colorectal Cancer”
  • Sarah Marrs, Ph.D., College of Health Professions, “Assessing Recognition of and Response to Cases of Abuse in Later Life”
  • Hollee McGinnis, Ph.D., School of Social Work, “How We Help Each Other: Exploring the Relationship Between Social Networks of Adult Foster Care Alumni and Adoptee Self-Help Group Participants and Individual Mental Health and Well-being”
  • Michael Reshchikov, Ph.D., College of Humanities and Sciences, “Ion Implantation of Be into GaN, AlGaN and AlN for Bright Ultraviolet LEDs”
  • Jochen Sokoly, Ph.D., VCUarts Qatar, “?iraz: Production, Administration and Consumption of Inscribed Textiles from Egypt under the Umayyad, Abbasid and Fa?imid Dynasties”
  • Colleen Thoma, Ph.D., School of Education, “Universal Design Intervention for Effective Transition Outcomes for Students with Disabilities”
  • Edwin van den Oord, Ph.D., School of Pharmacy, “An Epigenetic Resource for Treatment Target Discovery in Human Brain Samples”
  • Courtnie Wolfgang, Ph.D., School of the Arts, “StoryQueer: Narrative Archives of Queer Arts and Education”
  • Vamsi Yadavalli, Ph.D., College of Engineering, “Electroconductive Scaffolds for Regeneration of Skeletal Muscle”