McDonnell Academy awards seed grants for research on infectious diseases and the impact of COVID-19

The McDonnell Academy has awarded $250,000 in seed grants to kick-start 11 research projects led by Washington University faculty members and their collaborators from across the globe. The projects explore the international social, economic and public health ramifications of the COVID-19 outbreak and lessons for future pandemics. The recipients were chosen from a highly competitive applicant pool, which included 34 WashU teams from six of the university’s schools and 23 partner institutions.

“COVID 19 has been one of the most disruptive forces the world has experienced in decades,” said Kurt Dirks, vice chancellor of international affairs.

“Our faculty were eager to tackle the multitude of problems, in collaboration with experts from across the globe, but needed some immediate resources to get started. Thanks to the generosity and foresight of Bethany and Bob Millard, the McDonnell Academy was able to provide the support needed to begin this very important work. The research is expected to yield insights to address the current problems.”

Kurt Dirks
Infectious Diseases and COVID-19:  
Addressing Challenges to Public Health and Society Through Global Collaboration

Read more about how the McDonnell Academy supports COVID-19-related global research in the The Source.

McDonnell Academy Seed Grant Recipients

Experience of COVID-19 Pandemic and Its Impact on Retirement Process
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Hillary Anger ElfenbeinOlin Business SchoolSeoul National University; University of QueenslandCOVID-19’s impact on the older population may newly increase discrimination against older workers, who may be seen as weak and vulnerable. In this proposal, we investigate how the experience of COVID-19 affects retirement expectations and decisions, such as interest and pressure to retire and post-retirement plans. Our preliminary analysis of pilot data shows that the more time spent watching COVID-19 news, the earlier older workers think their age cohort will retire. We aim to explore different effects across three countries: the United States, Australia, and South Korea. Each has differing aging norms, retirement norms and resources, and experience of COVID-19. This will be a unique opportunity to investigate the pandemic interacts and cultural boundaries. This study aims to help individuals to understand their own retirement, organizations to manage post-COVID workforces, and society to prepare for changes to household income and social security.
Improved Antibody Surveillance for COVID-19 in Indonesia
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Peter FischerSchool of Medicine -Infectious DiseasesUniversity of IndonesiaCOVID-19 is a major emerging problem in Indonesia. However, the government’s response to the pandemic has been hampered by limited diagnostic capacity. This project will improve rapid format antibody testing to monitor COVID-19 activity in Indonesia. Antibody tests are useful for establishing baseline seroprevalence and for monitoring trends. Based on our group’s recent positive experience with COVID- 19 serology at Washington University and a longstanding relationship with the Universitas Indonesia (UI), we will work with colleagues to pilot the use of a lateral flow antibody test in asymptomatic subjects by systematic sampling to assess COVID-19 activity at the UI Teaching Hospitals in Depok and Jakarta and two other referral hospitals in central Java (high prevalence districts). Beyond this study, lateral flow antibody testing could be especially useful and feasible for COVID-19 diagnosis and surveillance in more remote areas of Indonesia that have few clinicians and no local molecular diagnostic testing capacity.
Examining the Economic Impacts of and Policy Responses to the COVID-19 Pandemic: Comparative Longitudinal Evidence from Israel and the United States
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Michal Grinstein-WeissBrown School – Social Work; Social Policy InstituteIDC Herzliya; Hebrew University of JerusalemThe COVID-19 pandemic has caused significant social and economic turmoil on a global scale. As nations work to contain the spread of the virus, they are also grappling with economic fallout due to the pandemic. We propose a comparative study of the U.S. and Israel that aims to (i) investigate the immediate and long-term economic impacts of COVID-19 on household welfare in each country, and (ii) assess how government policies and programs can mitigate the negative effects of the pandemic on household well-being. We will implement two comparable household surveys in Israel and the U.S. Longitudinal survey data will be collected at three-month intervals throughout the year. This comparative study will illustrate the diversity of impacts of COVID-19 across countries, identify commonalities and differences in COVID-19 impacts in economically vulnerable populations within each country, and inform the development of cross-national strategies to help prepare for similar outbreaks in the future.
Impact of COVID-19 on HIV Care in Ghana
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
George Kyei; Victor Davila-RomanSchool of Medicine -Infectious Diseases & Internal Medicine (Cardiovascular Division)University of GhanaThe COVID-19 pandemic is placing an unprecedented strain on health care systems, particularly those in limited-resource low- and middle-income countries. There is a great need to understand the adverse consequences of COVID-19 on health care systems. In Africa, models predict that more people will die from HIV and non-communicable diseases (NCDs) than from coronavirus. The overarching goals of this study is to determine the impact of COVID-19 on HIV patient care in Ghana and to find novel ways to continue care for these patients. Guided by the Consolidated Framework for Implementation Research, we will interview HIV patients, clinicians, counselors, policy makers and other stakeholders to ascertain barriers and facilitators to chronic care and find novel ways to re-engage patients in care. Findings from this study will: a) help to formulate policies and actions that will ensure continuity of care during the current and future pandemics, and b) inform future proposals.
Elucidating the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on healthcare personnel and the future of infection control in Ghana
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Caline Mattar; George KyeiSchool of Medicine -Infectious DiseasesUniversity of GhanaThe COVID-19 pandemic has posed significant public health challenges globally and disproportionately impacted healthcare personnel (HCP). In Ghana, COVID-19 cases involving HCP and lack of robust infection control programs have created additional demands on healthcare systems with limited resources. We propose a two-part study to identify barriers and opportunities to implement a formal infection control program at the University of Ghana Medical Center and characterize factors associated with SARS-CoV-2 transmission, including lapses in infection control practices, environmental contamination with the virus, and HCP infection.
COVID-19 in the Placenta: Understanding the Consequences in Pregnancy
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Indira MysorekarSchool of Medicine -Ob & GynUniversity of CampinasCOVID-19 is a severe global pandemic viral disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2. USA and Brazil are two of the most affected countries globally and both have reported multiple cases of maternal morbidity and mortality due to COVID-19. However, the mechanisms underlying the effects of COVID-19 on pregnant women are unknown, including consequences for placental health and vertical transmission. We propose to test the central hypothesis that COVID-19 increases the risks of pregnancy complications through the placental renin angiotensin (RAS) system, an important regulator of vascular function. In a collaborative research project between Washington University (WashU) and University of Campinas, Brazil (Unicamp), we aim to investigate the effects of COVID- 19 by conducting a translational study to assess whether women with COVID-19 infection in pregnancy have greater evidence of placental pathological changes leading to adverse pregnancy outcomes. Our work will provide a more complete picture of the impact of COVID-19 in pregnancy.
Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on HIV care in Campinas, Brazil and St. Louis, USA
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Shanti Parikh; Elvin GengAnthropology and African & African American Studies; School of Medicine – Infectious DiseasesUniversity of CampinasThe COVID-19 epidemic will impact human health not only through direct effects of infection, but also through indirect effects by disrupting health systems and chronic care. Understanding such disruptions is the first step toward the design of resilient health systems able to mitigate the effects of COVID-19 as well as withstand future crises. With the advent of highly active antiretroviral therapy (ART), HIV infection has become a chronic and manageable condition. But for treatment to be successful, patients must remain engaged in care, have access to medications regularly and undergo monitoring (e.g., viral load monitoring). The COVID-19 epidemic has disrupted livelihoods of patients as well as functioning of health systems and therefore continued engagement cannot be taken for granted. We therefore propose in both St. Louis and in Campinas, Brazil, two cities of approximately equal size, disease burden, and transmission risk categories to examine changes to the cascade of care including (1) the number of new diagnoses, (2) the number of patients newly starting ART and (3) the adequacy of viral load monitoring before and after COVID-19. In a sample of patients who have both continued to engage and had disruptions in their care we will conduct in-depth interviews to understand the societal and health systems determinants of health care for HIV patients in the COVID-19 era as well as social, psychological and whole person effects. Such data will help design of resilient systems for HIV care during COVID-19 as well as for future crises.
Does Politics Make You Sick: Examining the Influence of Political Ideology on COVID-19 Mitigation Across The Americas
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Guillermo Rosas; Deborah Salvo; Rodrigo ReisArts & Sciences – Political Science; Brown SchoolTecnologico de Monterrey; University of ChileOur study, “Does Politics Make You Sick: Examining the Influence of Political Ideology on COVID-19 Mitigation Across The Americas”, examines the interaction of political attitudes and public health in the COVID-19 era in Brazil, Colombia, Chile, and Mexico. Our goal is to understand how politically-driven attitudes aid or thwart efforts to manage the COVID-19 pandemic and its health and social effects across the Americas. Our project brings together an international, interdisciplinary team of epidemiologists and social scientists in the United States and Latin America.
Global Governance: The World Health Organization (WHO) and the Need for Post-COVID- 19 Reform
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Leila SadatSchool of LawNational University of Singapore; National Taiwan University; University of Melbourne; Utrecht UniversityThe WHO plays a critical role in how States and the international community handle global health emergencies. COVID-19 has tested the effectiveness of the WHO’s International Health Regulations (IHR 2005), the only binding legal instruments regarding international disease prevention and control. The IHR 2005 include a process for declaring a Public Health Emergency of International Concern (PHEIC). They impose requirements upon States, but their application and implementation are insufficiently robust. The coronavirus crisis and States’ attacks on the WHO itself have compounded these challenges. This project will convene an interdisciplinary group of prominent experts to steer a comprehensive examination of the IHR 2005 and the six PHEICs declared, including COVID-19. It will produce and disseminate a report, working with the ILA Global Health Committee, with recommendations for constructive reform, including amendments to the IHR, that can improve the effectiveness of existing international mechanisms and provide incentives for State implementation.
Determining relationships between COVID-19 and Intimate Partner Violence: A mixed methods study in St. Louis, Uganda, and Chile
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Kim Thuy SeelingerBrown School & School of Law; Center for Human Rights, Gender and Migration (Institute for Public Health)Makerere University; University of ChileExperts are concerned that the COVID-19 pandemic will increase many women’s risk of intimate partner violence, due to heightened economic stress and public health measures that may trap survivors at home with their abusers. While these assumptions are logical, we currently lack rigorously collected evidence of these complex dynamics. This transdisciplinary, mixed methods project will greatly improve understanding of the relationship between COVID- 19 and intimate partner violence (IPV) through a 3-city comparison of developments in St. Louis, Kampala (Uganda), and Santiago (Chile). The project will collate existing data related to IPV and COVID-19 in each city, illuminating it with insights from service providers about trends in IPV rates and reported causes during the pandemic. The project will culminate in both academic scholarship as well as more applied outputs useful to policymakers and practitioners.
COVID-19 and Its Impact on the Global Innovation and Intellectual Property System
Washington University PIDepartmentPartner InstitutionsAbstract
Minyuan ZhaoOlin Business School – StrategySeoul National University; Peking University; National University of SingaporeThe current global intellectual property (IP) system took shape 25 years ago, following the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) under WTO. The COVID-19 pandemic, while still ongoing, has already upended many assumptions behind TRIPS, and is expected to transform global innovation in healthcare and beyond. In this project, we aim to answer three interrelated questions: (1) How will COVID-19 reshape the global IP system? (2) How will firms compete and collaborate differently under the new frameworks? and (3) What are the implications for national innovation systems and the coordination among them? Given the time sensitivity of these questions, we will start with qualitative case studies in four countries (China, Singapore, South Korea, and the U.S.) to better understand the strategic interactions among the players, followed by a large scale empirical analysis using global patent application and litigation data, after the end of the pandemic.

The McDonnell International Scholars Academy seeks to spur collaborative research on issues related to public health challenges that stem from infectious diseases, like COVID-19, and the long-term societal impact and lessons of the current pandemic. As the effects of infectious diseases cross country borders, many of these issues are best addressed in collaboration with international partners.

Questions about seed grants can be directed to Roumy Theunissen at rtheunissen@wustl.edu.


The McDonnell Academy’s network of premier partner universities will help to facilitate joint research. Projects include an international collaborator from McDonnell Academy partner universities, and other institutions as well. Preference was given to projects that foster collaborations across disciplines.

About the McDonnell Academy                                                                                          

Since its founding in 2005, the McDonnell International Scholars Academy has forged partnerships with more than thirty premier research universities around the world. The McDonnell Academy has a dual mission. First, we recruit top scholars from partner universities and mentor them as they pursue graduate and professional degrees at Washington University, preparing them to become future global leaders. Second, we leverage the Academy’s international partnership network to incubate new ideas and foster collaborative research across countries and disciplines.