Kent State Brain Health Research Institute Members Receive Grants to Study Effects of COVID-19

Two members of Kent State University’s Brain Health Research Institute have been awarded grants to begin research on COVID-19 topics.

The grants were offered through Case Western Reserve University’s COVID Task Force and multiple funding partners across Case Western Reserve, including the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative, and Kent State’s Brain Health Research Institute.

In total, more than $500,000 was distributed to 18 research teams to help kick off new studies pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Joel Hughes, Ph.D., Kent State professor and director of clinical training in the Department of Psychological Sciences, received $20,000, with $10,000 coming from the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative, and $10,000 coming from Kent State’s BRHI, to study the risk and protective factors for the lasting mental health impact of the pandemic. 
Professor Joel Hughes

Hughes’ research team includes fellow Kent State faculty members Gregory Gibson, Ph.D. and Anthony Vander Horst, Ph.D., both from the Department of Sociology, and Christopher Woolverton, Ph.D., from the College of Public Health.

“Dr. Hughes and his colleagues are studying the lasting impact of psychological distress associated with the pandemic among our students,” said Michael Lehman, Ph.D., director of Kent State’s BHRI. “Their findings will be critical in allowing us to know whether psychological distress due to the COVID pandemic has a negative impact on brain health leading to increased incidence of depression and anxiety disorders. Their work will also help us identify both risk factors and protective factors influencing those diseases.”

Hughes’ team will provide a six-month follow up of mental health outcomes of students who suffered high levels of distress in the spring, due to the pandemic, and will identify protective and risk factors for depression and anxiety.

“Even minor changes can cause increased stress and so it isn’t surprising that the COVID-19 pandemic – which impacts nearly every aspect of our daily lives – has led to feelings of depression or anxiety in many individuals,” said John Gunstad, Ph.D., professor of psychology and associate director of the BHRI. “Finding new ways to better manage COVID-19-related stress could improve the lives of thousands or even millions of people.”

Also receiving a $20,000 grant is William Lynch, Ph.D., professor of molecular virology and neuroscience, in the Department of Integrative Medical Sciences at Northeast Ohio Medical University. Both Lynch and NEOMED are active members of Kent State’s BHRI. Lynch’s grant was funded by the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative ($10,000), Kent State’s BHRI ($5,000) and NEOMED ($5,000).  

There is rapidly growing evidence that COVID-19 also is linked to neurological symptoms.  Lynch’s research will use cutting edge techniques to directly examine how the novel coronavirus damages brain cells. 

“It is now very clear that the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic not only attacks the lung, but also the brain and other organ systems. Dr. Lynch, a leading neuro-virologist, is studying the mechanisms by which the virus infects the brain, causing long-lasting damage and neurological disease,” Lehman said of Lynch’s research. “His work uses a variety of cellular and animal models which ultimately will provide insights into the pathogenesis of SARS-CoV-2, and potentially lead to new therapeutic interventions for brain damage caused by the virus.”

Lehman noted how the ongoing on collabora
Michael N. Lehman, Ph.D., director of Kent State University's Brain Health Research Institute
tive work between the Cleveland Brain Health Initiative, Kent State’s BHRI and NEOMED was making a difference in the health and well-being of all in Northeast Ohio and beyond.

“We are privileged to have both Drs. Lynch and Hughes as colleagues and members of the BHRI – their work related to COVID-19 and other diseases helps elevate the international reputation and high quality of research ongoing at Kent State,” Lehman said. “Perhaps most importantly, they exemplify the commitment of BHRI research to make a difference for the health and well-being of Northeast Ohioans during the current pandemic and beyond.”


POSTED: Friday, August 14, 2020 - 10:37am
UPDATED: Friday, August 14, 2020 - 10:40am
Lisa Abraham