UNSW COVID-19 Capability Map now LIVE
Thanks to input from researchers across the University, UNSW’s comprehensive COVID-19 Capability Map is now live. The Capability Map is a depository for all projects underway and under development by UNSW researchers, as well as relevant expertise in relation to COVID-19 at UNSW. It contains full searchable details of over 260 academics and over 200 current and proposed projects. Its management has been overseen by Professor Ana Deletic as PVCR, and a small committee of representatives from across divisions and faculties.
Professor Nicholas Fisk, DVCR said, “This resource will prove invaluable, not just in planning multidisciplinary collaborations and proposals in all areas related to the COVID-19 outbreak, but also in maximising support from government, industry and philanthropy.”
The UNSW COVID-19 Capability Map is accessible to all UNSW staff at the following link.
Please email covidcapability.RSO@unsw.edu.au for any project updates, enquiries or if you begin to consider research in this area.
Message from the DVCR
Friday 8th May | Research News
In welcoming you to this May edition of Research News, let me first reiterate my continued admiration for the way in which our researchers have collectively adapted to the multifaceted challenges thrown at them these last two months.
As we adjust to a predominately virtual world, it is important that we remain flexible in our approach to engaging in research. A range of conferences are now being delivered online, providing opportunities for many academics to bridge previous financial and geographical barriers, and connect with wider audiences. Just look at the burgeoning attendances online at premier international conferences this last month or two. I strongly encourage you to seek out and take advantage of these newly accessible opportunities, and recorded options may help with any time zone challenges.
Several virtual Higher Degree Research (HDR) initiatives have also been implemented by the Graduate Research School (GRS), along with an HDR Completion Scholarship scheme, both of which you can read more about in the newsletter.
Friday 24th April
It’s five weeks now since we moved to largely working from home, with reduced physical presence in many labs and central services. Despite unavoidable disruptions, I continue to be impressed at the way in which our researchers have collectively adapted with creative workarounds to the multifaceted challenges thrown at them. Today, I write to update you, in particular on COVID-19 research opportunities and some complexities underpinning grant and scholarship extensions.
One upside is that Australia has done better than most in containing the pandemic, but there is still much uncertainty ahead as the country balances the possibility of elimination with that of second and further waves. For those interested in the latest epidemiology, I recommend this week’s Kirby Institute seminar from Professor Raina MacIntyre available here. A key focus for us all now will be planning for a post COVID-19 world, as uncertain as the timing and extent of that is.
External COVID-19 Funding
Our State is to benefit from a much-needed financial boost for COVID-19 research via a $25M funding commitment from the NSW Government for medical research and vaccine trials, as well as $11M to expedite commercialisation of research products from NSW’s universities and partner research institutions. Nationally, ten UNSW applications are under review with the Medical Research Future Fund, with over $13M in funding available to fast-track research into COVID-19 therapeutics. UNSW researchers have also secured three contract research agreements in this space totalling $3.5M.
Rapid Response Research Initiative
The Rapid Response Research Fund draws on a wealth of expertise across UNSW to tackle the biomedical and socioeconomic consequences of the global biosecurity emergency. Despite our constrained finances, UNSW has prioritized its contribution in the national interest, and its Fund is now the subject of a major fundraising effort through the Division of Philanthropy. Thirteen research projects were chosen for initial support from a competitive field of 167 submissions, and with donor generosity, further projects may be resourced from the Fund in the future. Selected projects range from developing clinical immunotherapies, point of care testing, and viral mutation tracking through to addressing the social and mental health aspects of COVID-19. Click here for details of the selection outcomes, and here for a list of the successful projects.
The Australian National Fabrication Facility (ANFF) is reassigning components of its equipment portfolio of 500+ fabrication tools to prioritise work essential to critical COVID operations. For those researchers whose work is relevant, ANFF may be able to assist with supported access to micro and nanofabrication-related tools. We are grateful to the NSW node located here at UNSW, which has generously offered to assist projects funded by the UNSW Rapid Response Research Initiative.
A surge in demand for rapid sharing of research data on the pandemic has seen a spike in preprints on online platforms. While making preprints available publicly has many benefits, it is imperative that the academic community still submits their work for timely peer review in the best journals. In this regard, we are encouraged by anecdotal reports of our researchers receiving expedited reviews and acceptances in time frames unimaginable just a few months back. Caution is advised when evaluating preprints – keep your quality antennae tuned.
COVID-19 Capability Map
Thanks to your responses, the Division has been able to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 Capability Map, a depository for all projects underway and under development by UNSW researchers in relation to COVID-19 in its broadest sense. Its management is overseen by Professor Ana Deletic as PVCR, and a small committee of representatives from across divisions and faculties. It will be accessible to all UNSW staff by the end of April. This resource will prove useful not just in planning multidisciplinary collaborations and proposals, but also in maximising support from government, industry and philanthropy. Please email firstname.lastname@example.org if you begin to consider research in this area.
The key messages are unchanged:
• current research may continue where safety considerations allow
• new projects using central infrastructure require Head of School approval
• divisional activities operate as usual, with many staff working remotely
• shut down (cryogens/gases, animals) preparations are in place but less likely to be needed now
• exercise caution please in managing project resources.
Please visit the UNSW Research COVID-19 Information webpage for up-to-date information on research activities. It covers resources, support services and FAQs, along with links to network messaging from the major funding bodies, including the NHMRC’s newly released FAQs with one from the ARC expected shortly.
Research Grants & Contracts (RGC)
RGC work BAU on pre and post award matters with contact details (phone and email) unchanged. Funding agencies have delayed some submission deadlines or, in rare cases, even cancelled schemes (e.g. NHMRC Synergy grants for 2020) – it’s worth confirming with the RGC Pre-award team before starting an application. Although it is still possible for researchers physically to visit the Grants Library one at a time, we are working on making successful applications available online in a protected single-use non-downloadable manner. See the RGC FAQ page for more COVID-19 related information.
Grant & Fellowship Extensions
Every grant and fellowship is affected differently. While some can continue, others involving field work, travel, or face-to-face research are stymied. This has implications for grant-employed staff on the one hand and on the other for the success of and investment in the whole grant if the work cannot be completed within its financial award. As highlighted in a recent Nature piece, most funders are accommodating unfunded but not funded extensions. That’s the story here in Australia, where the major funders have indicated “understanding” in pushing back reporting and completion deadlines. They are likely to approve reasonable variations for research delays and disruptions, or personal reasons (carer or clinical responsibilities). But it is prudent to seek advice from RGC if considering applying for a grant variation, as these may be better left till the individual picture is clearer while minor ones may be able to be accommodated within EoY reports.
Graduate Research School (GRS)
Higher Degree Research (HDR) Candidates can be particularly hard hit (the word “clobbered” has been used), especially those in mid thesis, those stuck in their home countries, those with financial difficulties, or those with research disrupted by the pause on travel, field studies, facility access, and face to face contact etc. The GRS has responded admirably to the understandable growth in demand for its support services, particularly related to candidature management, progress reviews, extensions, variations and scholarships. Working virtually, events and workshops delivered online cover both COVID-19 disruptions as well as BAU. Thesis examinations proceed apace with over 200 submissions in 2020 as well as over 200 completions. The changeover to online submission accelerated by COVID-19, has been seamless. Admissions and Scholarships are working hard on the pipeline of new candidates, and with most internationals not now likely to start till 2021, there is opportunity to make up the shortfall with domestic load.
Scholarships, Extensions, & Hardship
As with grants, the GRS offer considerable flexibility for HDR candidates to overcome some of the disruptions faced. This can take the form of project extensions, paid carers leave (RTPs and UIPAs), visa extensions, part time enrolment, or leave of absence. Note that HDR students are eligible for UNSW’s Financial Support Package for Students. In terms of scholarships, UNSW already offers these for a full 3.5 years in contrast to shorter terms at other universities, but funded extensions are not normally allowed. Accordingly the Dean of Graduate Research is developing a scheme to offer HDR completion scholarships (with fee waiver where necessary) aimed at those close to completion who can demonstrate their progress has been adversely impacted by COVID-19 – details available soon.
Research Strategy Office (RSO)
RSO now deliver seminar content via Teams, having begun with a well subscribed ‘Collaborative grants in uncertain economic times’ seminar last week. Strategic review and advice remain available across all major schemes. Indeed, we are seeing an uptick in interest – staff are encouraged first to seek peer review and support from colleagues, to both maximise chances of success and minimise opportunity costs with non-competitive applications.
Researcher Development Unit (RDU)
RDU now offers a range of training and resources online for academics and researchers at all career stages. The fortnightly Researcher Development e-Bulletin provides updates on UNSW offerings, changes to promotions, as well on wellbeing of researchers during this time. Subscribe here.
Research Ethics & Compliance (RECS)
Committees supported by RECS continue remotely, with expedited processes for COVID-19 projects. RECS continues to preview ethics and compliance applications as usual, whereas monitoring and facility inspections have been limited in some areas depending on regulator expectations. You must still seek approval for any modifications to approved protocols. Further information here.
Research Facilities & Infrastructure
All facilities of MWAC and the 3T MRI remain operational under modified access protocols. The Animal Services team provides full services to animal facilities on a rostered basis. Telemetry on our cryogen bulk tanks and remote monitoring on 200+ critical freezers are serving us well, also covering several animal facilities. Strategic support for infrastructure planning and analytical services continues, with staff available for consultation via Teams/Zoom. HPC access and support is available via the ResTech team. Hacky hours and eLab Notebook tech support are also offered online. We are also working on increasing remote instrument access and on-line training. Details found here.
Finally, as an institution our current focus is necessarily on teaching delivery, student recruitment, and managing the financial impost to ensure the university as a whole continues in a strong position. However, as a leading research-intensive Go8, we are conscious of the need to maintain our research capacity and firepower once we emerge on the other side of this crisis.
I would again like to acknowledge the huge pressures placed on staff and thank you for your continued hard work and professionalism at this difficult time. Rest assured we will keep you up to date with changing processes and policies – feel free to send questions and feedback to email@example.com.
Professor Nicholas Fisk
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research
COVID-19: Rapid Response Research Fund
On Friday 27th March, as part of UNSW’s contribution to addressing this crisis, the Vice Chancellor launched the UNSW COVID-19 Rapid Response Research Initiative to support UNSW researchers in addressing the biomedical, societal, and/or economic consequences of the pandemic.
Due to the rapid nature of the initiative, applications were received over a short 10-day period, generating 167 submissions across all nine faculties, seeking over $35M in funding. The submissions were of extraordinary quality and breadth. This scheme has focused the UNSW community’s mind on COVID-19 research, and will no doubt assist future philanthropic efforts, internal expertise mapping, and external grant funding opportunities.
The applications were reviewed by three senior research leaders not involved in any proposed projects, and while many were creative and worthy collaborative applications, only 13 were able to be prioritised in this round. This scheme is the subject of a major fundraising effort through the Division of Philanthropy, and with donor generosity, we hope to be in a position to be able to make further selections in the future. See the announcement story in InsideUNSW.
List of Successful Projects:
For further information on each of the projects, including other collaborators, investigators and project summary, please click here.
|Accelerated development and clinical evaluation of immunotherapies for SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19||Medicine||Kirby Institute||Professor Anthony Kelleher|
|A randomised trial to determine the effect of continuing versus discontinuing renin angiotensin system blockade on the risk of SARS-CoV-19 infection in patients with uncomplicated hypertension*||Medicine||School of Public Health and Community Medicine||Professor Alta Schutte|
|Molecular point of care testing among disadvantaged and vulnerable populations in Australia to contain COVID-19 outbreaks and prevent morbidity and mortality||Medicine||Kirby Institute||Professor Rebecca Guy|
|Point of Care, rapid testing for SARS CoV2 - Single molecule plasmonic sensor for amplification-free detection||Science||School of Chemistry and Australian Centre for Nanomedicine||Professor Justin Gooding|
|Real-time phylogeography of SARS-CoV-2 directly from patient samples||Medicine||School of Medical Sciences||Conjoint Professor William Rawlinson|
|Why do only some patients develop severe COVID-19 following infection with SARS-CoV-2?||Medicine||St Vincent's Clinical School & Garvan Institute||Conjoint Professor Stuart Tangye|
|'Count me in': a national research register of one million Australians involved in COVID-19 research||Medicine||Centre for Big Data Research in Health||Professor Louisa Jorm|
|Advanced manufacturing technologies to support Australian companies to retool for on-demand and rapid manufacturing of personal protective equipment (PPE) and critical components of medical devices||Engineering||School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering||Dr Xiaopeng Li|
|Weathering the storm: Australia’s responses to domestic and family violence during the COVID-19 pandemic||Arts & Social Sciences||Social Policy Research Centre||Associate Professor kylie valentine|
|New disinfection systems to overcome PPE shortages and provide long term protection against infection in Hospitals and Public Settings.||Science||School of Optometry and Vision Science||Professor Mark Willcox|
|Alcohol purchasing and consumption: learning from pandemic containment measures for more effective alcohol policy||Arts & Social Sciences||Social Policy Research Centre||Professor Alison Ritter|
|COVID-19: Understanding the sex and gender dimensions on women’s health and wellbeing||Law||Australian Human Rights Institute||Professor Louise Chappell|
|Tracking the Social, Cognitive and Mental Health Impact of COVID-19 from the Womb to Old Age||Science||School of Psychology||Dr Susanne Schweizer|
* This project was awarded however not taken up due to subsequent changes in both disease incidence and the evidence base.
Thursday 26th March
All staff are strongly encouraged to work remotely, where it is practical to do so. If your research really requires you to be on campus, we insist you practise safe distancing measures in line with the government’s very firm directives.
Since my email of last week, the unprecedented and rapidly changing pandemic situation continues to further disrupt the research and workplace environment here at UNSW. I write to firstly update you on how research activities can best be supported currently, but also to encourage a proactive and pragmatic footing as we prepare for uncertain times.
Looking ahead, I ask the UNSW research community to take measures to prepare for the potential scenarios we may face in the coming days and months and consider what this may mean for your existing research projects. This applies particularly to laboratory-based research, and/or potential decisions around animal, human, and other protocols that cannot be ceased immediately if, for example, the University is required to go into shutdown – a process that may take several days. In this light, no new research reliant on major UNSW research infrastructure or central facilities should commence without prior approval of your Head of School.
That said, current research may continue where possible, and we are not directing immediate cessation of any research. Some has already had to stop or adapt, such as those involving face to face or field studies, travel, non COVID-19 clinical trials etc. For those working at home or remotely, the additional teaching time with the transition to online has been problematic for many along with the domestic and carer challenges of home working, while others have managed to capitalise on this time to write grant applications, articles, or conduct data analysis. At this stage, those researchers and research groups that need to attend campus for experiments can continue to do so provided they practice sensible physical distancing and observe all health & safety practices. Some have used shift or split team approaches to achieve this – and this is encouraged, though clearly everyone’s situation may be quite different.
Grant and contract funders
The ARC & NHMRC have both acknowledged the very real challenges for researchers in the current situation, and we are engaged directly in representations on your behalf, in particular via the G08. The ARC announced extensions to some post-award reporting obligation, but continues its administration of the National Competitive Grants Program as before. The NHMRC is delaying the opening of some schemes, while it considers how best to address the range of issues that researchers will face in the coming months. To this end I encourage all researchers to be proactive in managing and submitting any grant variations with all funding bodies. The Division will communicate significant changes to you as they are announced. But until such time, researchers should plan for and submit grant applications as per the original timelines.
Frequent communication with contract research partners is advisable, as industry adapts to the new economic realities. This should help open dialogue on the options going forward around contract research, to update or negotiate terms, and ensure proactive management of project finances.
Drawing on the wealth of expertise across all nine faculties, the Division is collating a database on our overall capabilities in both fighting and understanding the impacts of this pandemic. For this, we rely on your input, and would like to hear at an early stage about all new projects being developed in relation to COVID-19 (email firstname.lastname@example.org). This will be pivotal in maximising support from government, grant bodies, industry and philanthropy.
The disruptive impact of COVID-19 on life as we know it will be profound; we will be in contact shortly around opportunities for research on COVID-19, not just in the more immediate biomedical and containment aspects, but addressing the myriad social economic societal and environmental consequences.
The majority of activities managed by the Division will continue to operate as before, albeit with many staff working remotely. The advice below applies today; it also applies in the event of any University shutdown, save that we would then issue additional advice on central facilities.
- Graduate Research School (GRS)
The GRS is operating online and committed to supporting candidates and supervisors, in particular to address the very real challenges of remote supervision and project disruption. The Candidature team is available to answer queries and provide advice while thesis examinations are now online which will assist candidates in the submission process. Admissions and Scholarships continue to process applications, although international offers and enrolments are on hold. The Dean of Graduate Research is in direct contact with supervisors on extension and interruption requests.
- Research Grants and Contracts (RGC)
RGC are presently working BAU with regard to pre and post award matters and all contact details (phone and email) remain the same. The Successful Grants Library is currently open and functioning at a reduced level to allow for attendee spacing, but we acknowledge this may need to change downstream.
Anticipating challenges in recruiting the additional project officers for the upcoming major NHMRC rounds (April/May), we will need to reallocate some post award grants officers to pre award tasks for a period of 4-5 weeks. We ask your understanding with any consequential delays in the post award space over this time.
- Research Strategy Office (RSO)
The RSO team are now working remotely, meeting effectively via Teams/Zoom etc. Strategic review and advice remains available across all major schemes, though there may be some delays in turnaround as closing dates for major grant rounds approach. As always, researchers are encouraged first to seek peer review and support from their colleagues, not only to maximise the chance of success, but also to minimise the opportunity cost associated with pursuing non-competitive applications.
- Research Ethics and Compliance (RECS)
Meetings and reviews by RECS-supported Committees continue along normal schedules, albeit remotely. Modifications to approved protocols must receive prior approval from the relevant committee, and we anticipate considerable need for these. However, committee inspections of animal, gene technology and radiation facilities are on hold until further notice. Animal care and veterinary services continue as before.
Ethics proposals on COVID-19 research needing expedited review will be prioritised, including through extraordinary meetings where needed. Researchers are advised to submit applications and highlight the urgency with justification. Team contact details with updated information can be found on the RECS website.
- Research Facilities and Infrastructure
Research infrastructure staff are available for consultation, including strategic support for infrastructure grants, but are working remotely where possible, and training courses, hacky hours etc have largely moved online.
Experimental facilities such as MWAC and 3T MRI remain operational, although with amended protocols, including remote instrument access and a sample drop-off mechanism to assist in running samples for you where feasible. Updated advice has been sent directly to all involved in animal research on service provision and approval procedures. Continuity of cryogen supply is under active management.
Given the complexities around individual services and research facilities, we are setting up an online site to provide easier access to this more detailed level of information – to be available in the next couple of days. This will include updates on capabilities that will be accessible remotely, under any shutdown scenarios.
It is no secret that the university sector will face cash flow and budgetary challenges over this year at least. We ask all our academics please to exercise prudent management in committing and spending project resources.
Finally, I appreciate the great pressures our academic and professional staff are under at this time -it’s tough. We must continue to prioritise the health and safety of our community first of all, and then the continuity of our academic and research mission within these constraints.
The Division undertakes to keep you updated on changes to processes and policies as they arise. Please do not hesitate to send questions or feedback to email@example.com.
Keep well, keep safe, and keep your distance
Professor Nicholas Fisk
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research
Tuesday 17th March
Re: Research activity during COVID-19
Further to the VC’s email of today, I am writing to all academic staff to update you on how your research activity can be best supported at this time.
This will understandably depend on the nature and scale of your own research, as well as its reliance on laboratory and central facilities. With the move for many staff to home working and online meetings, some of you will be able to work productively on your research remotely for much or even all of the time. Others such as those involved in physical and biological experimentation, clinical studies, larger research teams or work involving core facilities will need to maintain their workload though an on-campus presence. And I appreciate there will be many of you in between, for whom grant funding, deliverables, research/technical staff, local curation, collaborations and HDR supervision will be considerations in your planning.
My key message is that all Division of Research activities will continue to operate over this time, including the Research Strategy Office, the Graduate Research School, Research Ethics along with the Research Grants & Contracts staff. In particular you will have full access to our central facilities (both on campus and at affiliated sites), including the infrastructure and services available through the Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre.
There will also be local considerations best addressed at School and Faculty level, in addition to your own group working. The Division will assist in representations where necessary to funding bodies should compliance with submission and reporting deadlines, or grant continuity be problematic.
UNSW has done extraordinarily well in its research these last few years, and it is important we all continue the upward trajectory, including at this time when we prioritise the needs of our researchers as well as the health and safety of our community.
Professor Nicholas Fisk
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Research
Divisional Support - FAQs and Information
Higher Degree Research Sharepoint site, Key Contacts
The GRS COVID-19 SharePoint includes up-to-date advice regarding HDR candidatures, frequently asked questions, upcoming events, recent communications, key contacts, event recordings, and recommended links.
The site is accessible to all enrolled HDR candidates and UNSW staff and provides a single resource for all HDR information related to COVID-19. The information on this site will be updated as the situation continues to evolve, so please check back frequently for updates.
Shared Facilities, MWAC, 3T Human MRI, ANFF, Animal Research, Cryogen, ResTech
You can access the latest updates on Research Infrastructure and Facilities here.
Q: Are shared research facilities still open?
A: Yes, research facilities are generally open, though operating under revised protocols and access conditions. Each facility is communicating these directly with registered users. Researcher consultations are available via Teams. See below for specific facilities.
Q: Is MWAC still open?
A: Yes, MWAC is still operational. MWAC has circulated modified operational protocols to all users via ACLS, designed to ensure the health and safety of staff and research users. Please consult these revised protocols before planning your experiments. Researcher consultations are available via Teams. Detailed advice for users can be found at MWAC COVID response.
Q: Is the 3T Human MRI shared research scanner at POWH (a.k.a. RINSW) still accessible for research scans?
A: We are currently fully operational and our research staff is on-site to assist with your experiments. Consultations are also available remotely. Should the hospital require spare MRI capacity due to COVID-19, we will temporarily suspend research scanning until the situation improves. Please check our website for updates on our operational schedule.
Q: Can I still access ANFF?
A: ANFF is still open, but under modified operating conditions. Detailed advice has been sent to all users and is available here.
Q: How is animal research being supported?
A: Animal welfare is an extremely high priority for the University. A university wide plan is in place to ensure our normal high standards of animal care and to support staff providing essential animal services. This is being coordinated by Dr Malcolm France and Dr Josephine Joya. Detailed advice is available here.
Q: How are critical services being maintained?
A: Cryogen supply is being monitored & actively managed by our Cold Storage Manager, Paul O’Brien. A stores and delivery protocol is in development to ensure deliveries of critical supplies can continue. This will be uploaded shortly.
Research Technology Services (ResTech) are providing all services as normal as possible under the circumstances. For information about our services and events please visit our FAQ page. You can also contact us via teams or email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pre-award and Post- award FAQs, NHMRC and ARC updates
Research Grants and Contracts
- It is possible to vary research related funding agreements due to COVID19 related issues, this includes fellowships. Please discuss the requirements with your RGC Grants Officer and your Head of School.
- NSW Health COVID 19 Research Grants, close 20 May. See here for more details.
- FAQs related to pre-award and post-award processes can be found here.
Updates from the NHMRC
- 7 May 2020: The NHMRC update the Ideas Grants 2020 Guidelines.
- 10 April 2020: FAQs on the effect of the COVID-19 outbreak on applications for NHMRC funding, peer review, grant management and other NHMRC processes.
- 27 March 2020: Changes to Clinical Trials and Cohort Studies Scheme, Ideas and Synergy grants and more
- 19 March 2020: Message from the NHMRC.
Updates from the ARC
- 1 May 2020: An update from ARC CEO Professor Sue Thomas on ARC grants processes
- 28 March 2020: Closing date for applications to LIEF21, LP20 Assessment Round 1 and the Special Research Initiative for Australian Society, History and Culture have been extended.
- 13 March 2020: Extensions to some post-award reporting obligations
This page will be regularly updated as the circumstances continue to change.
All units within the Division of Research remain functioning. Any questions you may have can be directed through the regular channels, however should you require any further assistance, please contact email@example.com.