Virginia Tech’s transdisciplinary communities, including several Destination Areas (DA), Strategic Growth Areas (SGA), and research institutes, have provided seed grants to eight research teams in an effort to foster collaborative work throughout the campus.

These grant awards are designed to enhance the competitiveness for defined external support in areas that address issues related to rural health (e.g., socio-economic, environmental, health needs of rural populations) and infectious disease.

Transdisciplinary communities at Virginia Tech are composed of faculty, staff, and students working collaboratively to address complex problems that impact the human condition. Teams are working across disciplinary boundaries to address challenges in areas such as rural health, infectious disease, coastal mitigation and security.

Grants totaling $130,000 were recently awarded to research teams that included a number of DA and SGA cluster hires, and other junior and senior researchers. In addition to the funding, recipients will have an opportunity to participate in workshops during the spring semester that offer an opportunity to further build and leverage their transdisciplinary capacities. Awardees will also have an opportunity to present their preliminary findings and plans for securing additional funding at an open symposium planned for May 2019.

Teams receiving seed grants and the research they are engaged in to address issues in rural health are as follows:

Supporting Healthy Rural Communities through Increased Awareness of Well-being and System Factors

The proposal will serve to establish a new model for understanding the unique dynamics of health disparities and inequities within local communities, while concurrently assessing the strengths, weaknesses, and gaps within the system to mitigate current health issues and better predict and alleviate future health disparities.

  • Mary Beth Dunkenberger (PI), Institute for Policy and Governance
  • Charlotte Baker, Population Health Sciences
  • Kathy Hosig, Center for Public Health Practice and Research, Population Health, and Virginia Cooperative Extension
  • Robin Lemaire, Center for Public Administration
  • Donna Sedgwick, Sociology
  • Liz Allen, IPG
  • Laura Nelson, IPG


Addressing Suicidality among Veterinary Students

Rural veterinarians may, more so than their peers, experience fatigue, economic challenges, substance use, stress, and isolation – all factors that contribute to suicide risk in rural communities. Unfortunately, these unique stressors may be a deterrent to veterinarians serving in rural settings. This proposal represents the first transdisciplinary effort to systematically address suicidality among veterinarians.

  • Jody Russon (PI), Department of Human Development and Family Science
  • Terry Swecker, Veterinary Teaching Hospital
  • Jenni Zambriski, Department of Population Health Sciences
  • Kathy Hosig, Center for Public Health Practice and Research, Population Health, and Virginia Cooperative Extension


Development of Acoustically Active Biomaterials for the Detection, Prevention, and Treatment of Biomaterial-Associated Infections

In rural medicine, access to specialty equipment and facilities can be hundreds of miles away and many people treating long-term, or chronic, illness have to rely on traveling nurses or loved ones to provide the day-to-day care they require. There is a significant need for portable and affordable technologies capable of diagnosing, preventing, and/or treating device related infections in rural environments. In this proposal, the interdisciplinary team seeks to develop a novel acoustically active composite biomaterial for the rapid detection, prevention, and treatment of biomaterial-associated infections.

  • Abby R. Whittington (PI), Department of Chemical Engineering, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
  • Eli Vlaisavljevich, Department of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanics
  • Andre Muelenaer, Pediatric Pulmonology/Allergy, Carilion Children's Hospital; Pediatrics–Virginia Tech Carilion School of Medicine


Treating cryptosporidiosis in Zambia: Ex-ante evaluation of economic barriers to broad-scale adoption and implementation of chemotherapeutic interventions in developing countries

Often in developing countries, it is economy not efficacy that drives the entities that are supplied in a typical drug distribution system. This study will not only inform the application in the Zambian context and specifically to the case of CpPI(4)K inhibitors, but it will lay the foundation for the development of an Economic Action Plan to guide governments, NGOs, pharmaceutical companies, and health care providers when introducing new essential medicines into resource-poor countries.

  • Jenni Zambriski (PI), Department of Population Health Sciences
  • Susan Chen, Department of Agricultural and Applied Economics
  • Paul Kelly M.D., FRCP. Queen Mary University of London, Barts and The London School of Medicine, and University of Zambia School of Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine, Geneva Graef


Ecology and Geography of a Prion Disease in Virginia

Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) is an infectious disease of wildlife. CWD is part of the group of prion diseases which are caused by a proteinaceous infectious agent termed prion. In this project, the team will determine which landscape conditions and deer densities are more suitable for CWD infection and where these conditions are present in Virginia. This information will be crucial to inform surveillance plans, advancing the status quo of prion monitoring and will help justify landscape modification to reduce CWD transmission in Virginia and globally.

  • Luis Escobar (PI), Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Emmanuel Frimpong, Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Steven Winter (Graduate Student)
  • Joy Flowers (Undergraduate Student), Department of Fish and Wildlife Conservation
  • Megan Kirchgessner, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries
  • Jens-Christian Svenning, Department of Bioscience Center for Biodiversity Dynamics in a Changing World, Aarhus University


Public Inspired Science for a Healthy Exposome in Rural Environments

This project will aim to reduce disparities in water and foodborne exposures to contaminants of concern in order to improve rural quality of life while ensuring ecosystem security. Rural food and water systems will be examined within an exposome framework, a new holistic approach used to evaluate microbial and chemical aspects of water and food quality affected by anthropogenic activities, their interrelationships, and combined risks to human health.

  • Leigh Anne Krometis (PI), Biological Systems Engineering
  • Susan Clark, Horticulture
  • Marc Edwards, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Ellen Gilliland, Mining and Minerals Engineering
  • Korine Kolivras, Geography
  • Amy Pruden, Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • Nino Ripepi, Mining and Minerals Engineering
  • Kang Xia, Soil, Crop, Environmental Science


Teams receiving seed grants and the research they are engaged in to address issues in infectious disease are as follows:

Modeling the geographic relationship of the emerging disease, Theileria orientalis Ikeda, its exotic tick vector, Haemaphysalis longicornis , and host populations

Collaborators at Virginia Tech have a unique opportunity to evaluate the spread of a newly introduced, pathogenic, tick-borne disease carried by an exotic tick. Theileria orientalis Ikeda strain has been found in Virginia along with the recently identified Haemaphysalis longicornis tick, a known vector of this organism. This proposal is to evaluate the temporal and geospatial interactions of the vector (tick), pathogen (Theileria), and host (cattle) using a multidisciplinary team. This group is uniquely positioned to address this regional challenge.

  • Kevin Lahmers (PI), Biomedical Sciences and Pathobiology
  • Laura Hungerford, Population Health Sciences
  • Korine Kolviras, Geography
  • Sally Paulson, Entomology
  • Sierra Guynn, Large Animal Clinical Sciences
  • Pyrros Telionis (Ph.D. candidate), Genetics, Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, Biocomplexity Institute


The effects of temperature on bat fungal disease dynamics

This research merges cutting-edge mathematical modeling approaches with empirical data collection to address questions central to the intersection of Global Systems Science and Data and Decisions. This team will use a combination of laboratory techniques and novel mathematical modeling approaches to understand how temperature influences the fungal pathogen Pseudogymnoascus destructans, the causative agent of bat white-nose syndrome. The team will use these data to motivate future work exploring the effect of temperature on pathogen replication and host behavior across emerging and endemic disease scales.

  • Kate Langwig (PI), Biological Sciences
  • Leah Johnson, Statistics
  • Lisa Belden, Biological Science
  • Joseph Hoyt, Biological Sciences
  • Steffany Yamada, Langwig Lab
  • Team of undergraduate Virginia Tech researchers


Quantifying the risk of La Crosse virus in southwestern Virginia through modeling the spatial spread of multiple mosquito species

Arthropod-borne viruses (arboviruses) are important causes of neurologic infections among children in the United States, with more than half of the cases caused by La Crosse virus (LACV). In recent years, the distribution of LACV has shifted from the upper Midwestern states to mid-Atlantic and southeastern states, including Virginia. In the proposed project, the team will develop a model of mosquito competition through spatially distributed habitat including all three vectors to inform LACV virus spread. They will focus on Wise County, Virginia, where previous studies have examined spatial distribution of these mosquito species and their levels of infection.

  • Lauren Childs (PI), Department of Mathematics
  • Sally Paulson, Department of Medical and Veterinary Entomology
  • Melody Walker (Graduate Student) Department of Mathematics
  • Jake Bova, Department of Biology, Emory and Henry College
  • Julie Blackwood, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, Williams College
  • Vicki Brown, Department of Mathematics, University of South Wales
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