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Two UAB researchers receive nearly $1.3 million in grant funding

  • April 08, 2021
With the funding, Da Yan, Ph.D., will study how newly emerging services are changing the way Alabamians travel every day, and Paul Baker, Ph.D., will work toward the development of an artificial vascular graft.
Written by: Fletcher Allen
Media contact: Yvonne Taunton

bama.research.3With the funding, Da Yan, Ph.D., will study how newly emerging services are changing the way Alabamians travel every dayDa Yan, Ph.D., and Paul Baker, Ph.D., at the University of Alabama at Birmingham have collectively received nearly $1.3 million in research funding from the Alabama Research and Development Fund Award.

Yan is assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science, and Baker is director of the Advanced Materials Characterization Core in the Department of Physics, both in the UAB College of Arts and Sciences.

Yan’s project focuses on the development of a data science toolkit to support transportation planning for Alabama’s businesses and vulnerable communities.  

As the sole winning team of the College of Arts and Sciences’ UAB Interdisciplinary Innovation Team Award in 2020, Yan and Virginia Sisiopiku have conducted preliminary user mobility surveys and urban transportation simulations in Birmingham with the help of open data sources. Built on these preliminary results, Yan plans to build a web-based portal for mobility data access, as well as an automated pipeline for data extraction, agent-based transportation simulation and data analytics employing machine learning techniques. He wants to use these tools to study relevant scenarios that address pressing mobility needs in the state.  

“We will study how newly emerging services are changing the way Alabamians travel every day,” Yan said. “Birmingham alone has seen many new travel modes, such as carsharing apps, e-scooter rentals, bus route updates, etc., in recent years. In this project, we will conduct new user mobility surveys on these new travel modes, and use transportation simulation to better understand how they will change our transportation conditions and travel behaviors in the near future.”

An example of a scenario Yan would simulate is building a COVID-19 spread simulator, to explore how businesses’ reopening strategies would affect the population’s mobility and the virus’s spread.

Yan’s project would provide data-driven suggestions to state transportation policymakers about initiatives that would benefit Alabamians, including those who are economically and physically disadvantaged, to gain access to critical accommodations in an equitable and efficient way.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives in various aspects, from the more frequent use of online delivery services to the increased vulnerability and reduced employment opportunities for disadvantaged populations,” Yan said. “Studying the impact of COVID on Alabamians’ mobility is, therefore, of paramount importance to help develop effective policies to recover our state’s economy and employment from the pandemic. This will be an important focus of our project.”

The second funded project is a joint effort between the UAB Department of Physics, Department of Materials Science and School of Medicine to develop a small-diameter, artificial vascular graft.

This project also would address a pressing need resulting from COVID-19.

Vinoy Thomas, Ph.D., assistant professor of materials engineering in UAB’s School of Engineering, has been working on the development of an artificial vascular graft for surgical implantation since 2007 and has reached a point in the project where funds are needed for an animal trial. The graft would be especially helpful to COVID-19 patients who are reporting kidney infections and blood clots.  

bama.research.4 With the funding, Paul Baker, Ph.D., will work toward the development of an artificial vascular graft.“There is an unmet need for small-caliber, ready-to-implant vascular grafts for patients suffering from cardiovascular diseases due to arteriosclerosis for replacements, and for chronic dialysis patients for vascular access grafts,” Thomas said. “According to the American Society of Nephrology, more than 300,000 Americans have end-stage kidney disease and are depending on artificial dialysis to stay alive.”  

Recent advances from his lab on “innovative non-thermal plasma processing onto the intimal surface of the tubular graft” provide a non-clotting surface to the artificial vessels for dialysis access.   

The artificial graft would not only benefit COVID-19 patients. Once it has been approved, UAB plans to market the graft to a biomedical implant company for a new division in Alabama or establish a spin-off company for production and distribution.

The graft has been conservatively estimated to potentially earn $50 million annually, based on the number of surgeries that could use it. This new, unmet market would bring a number of highly skilled jobs and workers to Alabama.

“This opportunity from the state to aid us in the commercialization of an important, unmet medical need comes at a perfect time,” Baker said. “We intend to push this development as quickly as possible to get a solution on the market for those who need it. We have an excellent team that has a lot of expertise in both the science and development of these implants, as well as on the implantation and surgical side as well.”