Both research funding and total external funding to the University of Iowa rose in 2014-15, with new and continued grants and contracts fueling research that will benefit Iowa, the Midwest, and the world.

UI investigators are working to find effective treatments for a cardiovascular disease that affects pregnant women and kills more than 100,000 patients each year; investigating the use of technology to deliver health care to families where they live; assessing Iowans’ access to affordable medical care; supporting Iowa workforce development for public health professionals; and forging partnerships across Iowa to explore how digital tools can be used to enhance humanities research and teaching.

“Faculty continue to make important strides in securing federal grants and they continue to conduct groundbreaking research despite a very challenging research funding landscape,” UI Vice President for Research and Economic Development Daniel A. Reed said.

Combined public and private funding for research was up 2.7 percent, from $431.4 million in FY14 to $443 million in FY15.

Also up in FY15 were the total number of awards granted (up 3 percent, from 2,185 in FY14 to 2,240 in FY15). There were 169 new sponsors of both research funding and other funding in FY15.

Total external funding for FY15 (which includes gift commitments and charitable grants supporting research through the University of Iowa Foundation) was up 9.6 percent, from $515.8 million in FY14 to $565.2 million in FY15, the highest level since the sunset of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) continued to provide the lion’s share of public research support, at $146.7 million, followed by the Department of Health and Human Services (non-NIH funding) at $22.4 million, the National Science Foundation at $11.3 million, and Department of Defense at $10.5 million.

Business/corporation research support rose 28 percent (from $71.4 million to $91.7 million) while state/local government funding (most of it federal dollars transferred through state agencies) increased 45 percent (from $32.8 million to $47.5 million).

Reed said federal funding for basic research is critical for continued United States economic competitiveness. He said it’s also important for finding solutions and accelerating discovery across a range of critical 21st century issues, from biomedical research to treat and cure infectious diseases, cancer and heart disease through environmental and energy sustainability to public policy. Although total research and total external dollars were slightly up in FY15 at the UI, there was a 7 percent decline in overall federal research funding, from $250.1 million to $231.9 million.

Reed said recent efforts by Congress to address research funding shortfalls in biomedicine are encouraging but that major discoveries—and the economic benefits that result—require significant, ongoing, national investment. Proposed funding increases would reduce the time required for translating scientific advancements into new treatments and therapies for a range of conditions and diseases.

“More than half of the U.S. economic growth since the Second World War is attributable to science-driven technological innovation,” Reed said, pointing to biomedicine and the computing and communication industries as examples. “The source of much of this innovation was federally funded basic research, which helped lead to life-saving vaccines, new drugs, diagnostic imaging, modern communication devices, and the Internet.

“If we want our children and their children to experience the same opportunities in the future, as a country we need to do what we did half a century ago and make funding basic research a national priority,” Reed said.

A detailed breakdown of research funding from FY11 to FY15 is available here.

FY15-14 Federal and Non-federal Research Funding

FY15-14 Federal and Non-federal Total External Funding

Research examples

A number of research grants and contracts secured or continued in FY15 will directly benefit Iowans and the Midwest.

Tanya Uden-Holman, Clinical Professor and Associate Dean for Education and Student Affairs in the UI College of Public Health, received $2.8 million from the Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration to support her work with the Midwestern Public Health Training Center. Covering the four-state region of Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, and Nebraska, the center will help improve public health by strengthening the technical, scientific, managerial, and leadership competencies of the public health workforce.

Peter Damiano, Director of the Public Policy Center and a Professor in the UI Department of Preventive and Community Dentistry, and the health policy research team at the PPC are involved in a series of funded studies with the Iowa Department of Human Services evaluating programs aimed to reform the health care system for chronically ill and vulnerable populations in Iowa. These programs include the Iowa Health and Wellness Plan, Iowa’s version of the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, the Medicaid Health Home and Integrated Health Home programs, the Medicaid managed care programs and the Dental Wellness Plan.

Two UI colleges that saw increases in research funding in FY15 were the Carver College of Medicine (up 8 percent, from $200.5 million to $215.8 million) and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences (up 4 percent, from $43.5 million to $45.4 million).

In the area of medicine, Curt Sigmund, Chair and Department Executive Officer of Pharmacology and the Roy J. Carver Chair in Hypertension Research in CCOM (along with fellow lead investigators Mark Santillan, Gary Pierce, and Justin Grobe), received a four-year, $3.7 million grant from the American Heart Association to create one of four national Strategically Focused Hypertension Research Centers. The UI center’s focus is on finding a cure for preeclampsia, a cardiovascular disorder generally occurring late in pregnancy that causes high blood pressure and protein in the urine and often results in an early delivery, creating immediate and potentially lifelong risks to both mother and baby. 

Between 5 and 7 percent of all pregnancies in the United States are affected by preeclampsia, equating to roughly 4,000 pregnancies in Iowa or around 500,000 in the United States per year. More than 100,000 women worldwide die from the disease each year.

Scott Lindgren and David Wacker, Professors of Pediatrics in CCOM’s Stead Family Department of Pediatrics, received $2.6 million from the NIH as principal investigators for a study exploring new methods of behavioral assessment and treatment for children with autism by using communication technologies (telehealth). This will allow families to get support in their homes without having to travel to a clinic or medical center.

Other funding for medical-related research include a five-year, $3.2 million NIH grant to better understand the causes of sudden unexpected death in epilepsy; $691,504 from the NIH to study changes in DNA related to post-traumatic stress syndrome and depression in people who suffer military sexual trauma; and $4.2 million from the NIH to support the UI Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, which helps researchers across disciplines translate basic science research and test new treatments and interventions, among other activities.

In the social sciences and humanities, Michael O’Hara, Professor and Starch Faculty Fellow in CLAS’s Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, received $147,000 from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to evaluate “MomMoodBooster,” an online intervention to help female military veterans from across the country cope with postpartum depression. Mark Blumberg, the F. Wendell Miller Professor of Psychology in CLAS, received a $2.4 million MERIT Award from the NIH’s National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (part of $4.9 million in funding over 10 years) to study the role that “sleep twitches” play in early brain development.

Jonathan Wilcox, Chair of the Department of English, received a $141,286 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to conduct a four-week, hands-on faculty seminar where participants learned how medieval-style manuscripts were created, from shaping animal hides into parchment to mimicking stylish calligraphy and ornamentation, and explored the importance of the materiality of books in the digital age.

In an innovative experiment between a university and a liberal arts college, the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided $1.6 million for a four-year project: “Digital Bridges for Humanistic Inquiry: A Grinnell College/University of Iowa Partnership.” Supported on the UI side by the Obermann Center for Advanced Studies, faculty and students will explore teaching, learning, and research in the digital liberal arts by creating new collaborative practices for the humanities.

The Obermann Center is also part of a Mellon-funded 15-university consortium, “Humanities Without Walls” that provides opportunities for faculty collaborations across the Midwest and includes a summer institute on careers in the humanities for two graduate students from each of the member universities.

Note: This story was updated on Sept. 11, 2015, to correct some of the data.