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September 28, 2015   Columns Articles | Inside UGA | Strategic investments help boost research funding by…

Strategic investments help boost research funding by 7 percent

Sam Fahmy

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By Sam Fahmy | September 28, 2015
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Buoyed by strategic investments in health-related research as well as determined efforts to attract more funding from private foundations, research expenditures at UGA climbed 7 percent in the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30.

Research and development funding provided by federal agencies has been declining in real dollars in recent years. Federal funding for research at UGA held steady from fiscal year 2014 to 2015, but support from private foundations rose dramatically to boost overall research expenditures 7 percent to $154.6 million.

"University of Georgia faculty are engaged in research that addresses some of the world's greatest challenges," said UGA President Jere W. Morehead, "and the increase in research expenditures in fiscal year 2015 is a strong signal that we are continuing to expand the research enterprise of this great institution."

Prior investments in UGA's health-related research programs, including infectious diseases and glycoscience, fueled much of the recent growth in private foundation support. The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation provided a large, multi-year award to Dan Colley, director of UGA's Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, to coordinate global efforts to eliminate the neglected tropical disease known as schistosomiasis. The Gates Foundation also is funding research by Ralph Tripp, the Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar in Vaccine and Therapeutic Development, to enhance the production of vaccines against rotavirus, the most common cause of severe diarrhea in infants and children worldwide.

Also reflecting the growing strength of the infectious diseases program at UGA, Institute of Bioinformatics Director Jessica Kissinger is conducting research funded by the National Institutes of Health to organize, distribute and mine massive quantities of data on the pathogens that cause malaria. The ultimate goal is to improve diagnosis and treatment of the disease.

Rick Tarleton, the UGA Athletic Association Distinguished Research Professor of Biological Sciences and a member of the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, is developing a new drug to treat Chagas disease with funding from the Wellcome Trust.

UGA recently received its first award from the W.M. Keck Foundation, which funds high-impact, breakthrough science. The award went to a team of scientists headed by professor Michael Tiemeyer that includes faculty from the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center and will enable the discovery of fundamental molecular changes that cause Alzheimer's disease, autism and other serious neurological disorders.

UGA continues its record of strong grant support in agriculture and the environment, and the formation of the College of Engineering in 2012 has positively impacted the institution's research funding. Associate professor of engineering Changying "Charlie" Li, for example, is leading a study funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to improve the efficiency of the nation's blueberry harvest. Samantha Joye, the UGA Athletic Association Professor of Arts and Sciences and a professor of marine sciences in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, is continuing her studies of natural oil seeps and assessing the long-term impacts of the BP/Deepwater Horizon oil spill through a project funded by the Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative.

Overall, UGA faculty had nearly 1,500 funded research grant proposals in fiscal year 2015.

"Funding from the federal government and from private foundations enables our faculty to conduct research that benefits health, safety and security, the economy and overall quality of life," said Pamela Whitten, senior vice president for academic affairs and provost. "These grants also enable promising graduate students from across the nation and around the world to work alongside our faculty to make UGA one of the nation's leading research universities."

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