Ovarian cancer, ADHD projects among
By Fariss Samarrai
U.Va. research projects have been awarded grants this year through
the Funding Excellence in Science and Technology program, sponsored
by the Office of the
Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies.
years winners include a proposal to develop a drug discovery
center at the University; a project studying possible therapies
for ovarian cancer; a psycho-physiological procedure for assessing
attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders; and a project that
is looking at ways to use synthetic biomaterials for eventual
therapies for an assortment of medical conditions.
FEST awards, a program now in its third year, are part of the
Virginia 2020 Science and Technology Planning Commission plan.
The awards provide a source of seed money for innovative and promising
research. President John T. Casteen III established the program
as part of the 2020 initiative.
of this years projects are being partly funded by the Carilion
Biomedical Institute through a collaborative biomedical translational
research grant program with U.Va. This is the first year that
CBI a Roanoke-based nonprofit partnership between the Carilion
Health System, U.Va. and Virginia Tech is funding FEST
awards. CBIs purpose is to strengthen biomedical research
at the two universities and promote regional economic
development. Carilion also will help U.Va. researchers turn
their research projects into commercially viable products
money can bring in big
bucks for vital research
Two years ago, Robert Jones, professor of physics, received
a three-year $320,000 FEST award to begin development of
a high-intensity laser capable of investigating the inner
workings of molecules.
as a result of that seed money, Jones has a five-year grant
for more than $700,000 from the Department of Energy to
continue that work. He is now building the laser and initiating
FEST grant allowed this, Jones said. DOE said
we had an imaginative proposal, and this is the first time
theyve ever awarded a five-year grant based on a three-year
imaginative proposal is to use the high-intensity short
pulse laser to shatter molecules, allowing him and colleagues
to take a look at whats inside. They can alter what
happens inside an atom or molecule, and can change the way
molecules behave. They hope to develop new laser-based tools
to control molecular motion and gain greater understanding
of these fundamental building blocks of matter.
Pamela Norris, associate professor of Mechanical and Aerospace
Engineering, and co-investigator James Landers, professor
of chemistry and associate professor of pathology, received
a $100,000 Ivy Foundation grant two years ago to develop
they have an $800,000 grant from the National Institutes
Ivy grant was the seed that allowed us to grow more funding,
grants, awarded by the independent Ivy Foundation, provide
start-up funds for promising biomedical research at the
and Landers are working to miniaturize laboratory analysis
equipment. The idea is to take various testing methods and
equipment, and downsize them to the size of a microchip
for clinical diagnostics.
hope to eventually have portable testing devices available
for medical and biodefense applications as well as for environmental
monitoring, including testing for biohazards.
Thomas C. Skalak, professor of biomedical engineering and
chairman of his department, is known for turning a little
seed money into a lot of funding. Skalak and his colleagues,
all studying various aspects of tissue growth, received
a $200,000 FEST grant three years ago. Today they are continuing
their research with $3.6 million from NIH. Their work is
important trying to understand how genes direct the
assembly of cells into structures that form tissues and
organs. FEST administrators know the work holds great promise
for future breakthroughs in the treatment of several diseases,
such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes and kidney failure.
Clearly, NIH thinks so too.
goal of the FEST program is to provide researchers with seed funding
that could attract more funding from other sources, said
Jeffrey Plank, associate vice president for research and graduate
studies. And CBI will work with investigators to accelerate
the commercialization of intellectual property.
of the funding for the translational research program grants comes
from CBI, the other half from U.Va.
emphasize collaborative multidisciplinary research, said
Sam English, manager of research at CBI. And we work together
with the faculty members in a partnership to make the projects
said CBI will help its FEST winners identify and apply for additional
funding from other sources, as well as to look for ways to either
create start-up companies or license their intellectual property
to established companies for possible development.
FEST awards grew out of the Universitys old Academic Enhancement
Program, which provided seed money for research projects in the
humanities and sciences. The FEST awards are specifically for
science and technology research, and are designed to encourage
excellence and innovative studies, to foster the creation of multidisciplinary
research groups, and to attract major external funding.
program began with a budget of $1 million. Plank said his office
is seeking additional funding, such as the Carilion grants, to
keep the program running. Some of the projects funded by FEST
last year and the previous year have since received significant
funding from other sources and are now viable research programs.
is the purpose of the program, said Plank, to help
faculty work on projects they wouldnt ordinarily have the
Penberthy, assistant professor of psychiatric medicine in the
Behavioral Medicine Research Center, was awarded a $137,500 CBI/U.Va.
Biomedical Translational Research Grant to develop a psycho-physiological
procedure for assessing attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders.
She proposes to combine traditional assessment procedures for
diagnosing these disorders which involve a great deal of
subjectivity with new methods developed in her lab that
are more accurate and standardized than traditional methods alone.
diagnosing ADHD is a major difficulty for clinical psychologists,
she said. There is a lot of concern that ADHD is over-diagnosed
and that too many kids are being put on medication. Were
proposing a cost-effective standardized assessment that incorporates
rating scales in a systematic way that can lead to accurate objective
is working on the project with Boris Kovatchev and Daniel Cox
in psychiatric medicine, and Donald Brown in systems engineering.
They expect to have a prototype device ready in about six months
and are now seeking additional funding from the National Institutes
Macdonald, professor of chemistry, was awarded a CBI/U.Va. Biomedical
Translational Research Grant of $145,367 to research methods for
blocking a signaling molecule that promotes the growth of ovarian
cancer. He proposes to make a compound, based on a receptor antagonist
collaboratively discovered in his lab and in the lab of co-investigator
Kevin Lynch, professor of pharmacology, that will inhibit the
molecule that signals cancer cells to grow. He said the FEST funding
will help him take the first steps toward translating these findings
to the bedside.
will work with U.Va. faculty in chemistry and pharmacology.
work is far enough along to hopefully interest pharmaceutical
companies, English said.
and co-investigators in chemistry, Mario Geysen and Milton Brown,
also were awarded a FEST Excellence Grant of $116,000 for a proposal
to develop a Center for Drug Discovery at the University. The
center would bring together biomedical researchers across Grounds
to develop drugs for such diseases as cancer and diabetes. Macdonald
said the center would be among the first integrated academic facilities
for chemical genetics in the country and would profoundly
influence the nature and the quality of science that the University
is capable of.
center also would help U.Va. researchers to generate intellectual
property and possible spin-off ventures.We
propose to start small and target about five possible drugs for
development, Macdonald said. We would like to make
drugs that the big pharmaceutical companies are not pursuing.
Fraser, associate professor of chemistry, received a $32,828 Excellence
Grant for a project to tailor synthetic biomaterials for use as
multifunctional delivery agents for cancer therapies, for anti-microbial
drug delivery systems and as substrates for growing and regenerating
cells. She and co-investigator Anne Pfister collaborate with biologists,
engineers and physicians. She hopes her initiatives will help
set the stage for a broader biomaterials program at the University.
work aims to help address challenges in prostate cancer and breast
and ovarian cancer research, and possibly the hearing and balance
cell regeneration field. Fraser added that her group is eager
to help build new interdisciplinary and collaborative networks
that include and encourage students and scientists at all levels.