As reported by the Bristol Press, October 30, 2009.

UConn Health Center Gets $19 Million in Stimulus Funds

By Scott Whipple

University of Connecticut Health Center researchers have been awarded $19 million for 32 different projects. The federal stimulus funds will support a wide variety of ongoing and new research.

Funded projects include a $3.6 million grant to study biodefense responses to microbial pathogens, led by Health Center immunologist Dr. Leo Lefrancois; $800,000 for a study of the genomic conflict in Poeciliid fishes by biologist Dr. Michael O’Neil and $400,000 for an investigation into the formation and applications of ultracold molecules by physicist Dr. William Swalley.

"The innovation in our laboratories will help drive the state’s future economy," Dr. Suman Singha, vice president for research and graduate education at UConn said in a prepared statement. "It will also prepare graduate and undergraduate students who will become our next generation of scientists, engineers, health care professionals, and teachers."

The flow of stimulus money may accelerate as federal agencies such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, complete the process of reviewing thousands of proposals, noted Michael Crouch, executive director of the Office for Sponsored Programs and assistant vice provost for research at UConn.

In all, faculty from Storrs and the Health Center submitted more than 370 grant proposals by the Sept. 30 deadline, totaling more than $227 million in requested funding from the federal stimulus package. Even with 75 UConn research projects allotted federal funding so far, Crouch said the additional anticipated research awards have yet to be revealed.

"The funding is slowly beginning to arrive," he said. "Our trail of funded projects should continue through Fiscal Year 2010 as we get further into the awarding cycle."

About two-thirds of the new money coming to UConn is from the NIH for biomedical research; most of the rest is through the NSF, Crouch said.

"These new grants allow investigators to grow their programs and [compete] for other research awards," he said. "The UConn faculty has done well in this highly competitive process."

Three grants totaling nearly $3 million awarded to the Health Center are "challenge grants." They include a new NIH initiative to jump-start specific biomedical and behavioral health research. The awards will pay for salaries of researchers, supplies and equipment for three ongoing Health Center research projects — more than $983,000 for a novel method that uses a molecular diagnostic approach to classify lung cancers and provide useful information to guide treatment led by geneticist Dr. Bruce Mayer; $1 million for a study into a bleeding disorder due to problems in several molecules on platelets by immunologist Dr. Zihai Li, and $968,000 for a two-year trial to evaluate feasibility of screening and treating tobacco and drug dependent patients in dental settings led by Dr. Thomas Babor, head of the community medicine department.

"There were more than 20,000 applicants for the challenge grants, but only one percent was funded," said Dr. Marc Lalande, chairman of the department of genetics and developmental biology. Lalande is the Health Center’s senior associate dean for research planning and coordination. "To have one grant is significant, but to have been awarded three shows that our researchers compete with the very best."

Other funded projects at the Health Center include two equally competitive and highly sought after grants designed to recruit new faculty, said Jeff Small, associate vice president of the Office of Re-search Administration and Finance in Farmington. UConn researchers in Storrs secured another $14 million in federal stimulus funds through competitive grants.

Small said one $765,000 grant for Dr. Sandra Weller, chairwoman of the molecular, microbial and structural biology department, will further Health Center efforts to recruit world class researchers in structural biology while fostering collaborative research within UConn. The other grant for Dr. Victor Hesselbrock, scientific director of the Alcohol Research Center, will provide $900,000 for a new faculty member. This is expected to result in development of a new independent research program.

"These stimulus funds represent a welcome boost for researchers," said Small. "Budgets at federal agencies such as NIH have remained flat for several years."

Small said administrators and researchers at the Health Center are excited over the two recruitment grants.

"They allow us to invest in infrastructure, which in higher education means hiring new professors," he said.