Feb. 27-March 11, 2004
Vol. 34, Issue 4
Back Issues
Think About It
Greenberg: Brown Helped break segregationist South
Medical Center operating in black
Headlines @ U.Va.
‘Homegrown’ administrator credits mentoring in career success
Faculty Senate turns its attention to matters of honor, money
He’s no dummy
Online master’s program trains nurse leaders from underserved rural areas
What About the Children?
Discovering new life at the bottom of the sea
Leap year has U.Va.’s zip code
Francesca Fuchs
Research yields benefits, mankind, marketplace

Research yields benefits to mankind, marketplace

By Charlotte Crystal

Last spring, two U.Va. microbiologists, William Petri and Barbara Mann, were recognized for their work in developing a clinical test to diagnose amoebiasis, an intestinal infection that is a leading cause of death in children in developing countries.

“Even though this test may not be highly profitable,” said Robert S. MacWright, executive director of the U.Va. Patent Foundation that named the pair the 2003 Edlich-Henderson Inventors of the Year, “its value should be measured in its benefit to humanity, rather than in dollars and cents.”

Courtesy of Health System Marketing & Communication

The researchers’ invention will enable health care workers to treat children and adults suffering from diarrhea and dysentery by identifying the infecting agent through a relatively easy-to-use, inexpensive kit.
At the University of Virginia, research is the mother of invention.

The University’s research enterprise has seen dramatic growth in recent years and now ranks 49th among the top 100 universities in attracting federal research and development funding, according to the Office of the Vice President for Research and Graduate Studies. U.Va. faculty members secured more than $257 million in research support from government, corporate and other sources in the 2002 fiscal year, nearly double the total three years before.

“Research is one of the elements that makes U.Va. a great institution,” said R. Ariel Gomez, vice president for research and graduate studies. “It creates jobs, generates new knowledge, drives inventions in high tech, creates innovative medical treatments and pharmaceuticals, and enhances our teaching mission.”

Moreover, research dollars don’t just sit inside the labs. For every $1 million in research funding spent in Virginia, more than 30 full-time and part-time jobs are created, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce.

In all, universities in Virginia received more than $595 million in research funding from all sources in 2001, leading to the creation of more than 18,700 jobs, directly and indirectly, according to the Association of American Universities.

Some University faculty members have also become interested in commercializing the intellectual property created through their research. And U.Va. has launched a number of initiatives to help them. Among the oldest efforts is the U.Va. Patent Foundation, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

The Association of University Technology Managers estimates that technology transfer from universities, teaching hospitals, research institutes and patent management firms in fiscal year 1999 supported 270,000 jobs around the country and contributed more than $40 billion to the national economy.

At U.Va., the pace of faculty members seeking patent protection for their inventions has accelerated in recent years. The 100th patent was issued to a University faculty member in 1993, 16 years after the patent foundation was established, and the 200th patent only six years after that.

Last year alone, the Patent Foundation’s licensing staff handled disclosures for 135 inventions and 49 licensing agreements, MacWright said. Seventeen U.S. patents were issued to U.Va. faculty members last year, in fields ranging from human reproduction to ultrasound imaging and microchip lithography.

In 2000, the Patent Foundation created Spinner Technologies Inc., a for-profit subsidiary co-owned by the University, to help faculty start companies to develop and market their technologies. Spinner works with inventor-entrepreneurs to develop a business plan and create the needed infrastructure, such as legal and accounting systems. Spinner has established incubator labs — at the Emerging Technology Center in the U.Va. Research Park at North Fork, and in the Corner Building on the University Grounds — to help young biomedical companies develop their technologies.

Spinner is currently working with seven faculty start-up companies and consulting with three dozen more, said Andrea Alms, Spinner’s general manager.

“Our goal is to help create 30 to 60 new firms over the next five years,” she said.

Through the joint efforts of Spinner and the Patent Foundation, more than two-dozen start-up companies have been created locally over the past three years, she said.

Robert DeMauri, executive director of the Thomas Jefferson Regional Economic Development Partnership, noted that the University’s presence also attracts small high-tech companies from outside the area. Coming in search of a well-educated workforce, they later establish partnerships with University researchers. New jobs tied to research in emerging fields also can help replace old jobs lost as aging industries shut down or scale back their operations in Central Virginia, DeMauri said.

University of Virginia Gateway, directed by David Kalergis, also has strengthened connections between the University and local high-tech companies by helping to address workforce issues through promoting internships for students and jobs for graduates, among other activities.

Additional efforts by the University to connect with the emerging high-tech and biotech sectors in Central Virginia include its two research parks — Fontaine Research Park near the University’s main Grounds and the U.Va. Research Park at North Fork eight miles north of Charlottesville — which encourage research partnerships between University faculty and private companies.

Along with teaching, public service and research, U.Va. sees its mission as working to strengthen the links between research and invention to advance knowledge, create new jobs and save lives.


© Copyright 2003 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

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