Research yields benefits to mankind,
By Charlotte Crystal
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.”
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System Marketing & Communication
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,
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.
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
“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
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.