Friday, July 13, 2018

Cross-disciplinary research and scholarship fueled by FY 2018 numbers


The University of Iowa had another strong year for projects that will benefit Iowans, the country, and world thanks to an increase in federal funding for research and the number of proposals, grants, and contracts awarded in fiscal year 2018.


External Funding Graphic

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) granted UI medical and healthcare researchers 29 percent—or $40 million—more in FY 18 than in FY 17. In fact, NIH support in FY 18 was the highest since 2012, when funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act—an economic stimulus package passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama in 2009—ran out. Daniel Hyer, clinical associate professor of radiation oncology, was awarded $586,726 from NIH in FY 18 to develop a new device to reduce unwanted radiation and spare normal tissues in cancer patients undergoing proton therapy.


NASA was another funding star in FY 18, with UI researchers in the Department of Physics and Astronomy securing $8.8 million in funding, up 40 percent or $2.5 million over FY 17. A team led by UI physicist Craig Kletzing won $1.25 million from NASA to conceptualize a potential mission to study the mysterious, powerful interactions between the magnetic fields of the sun and Earth. (Learn more)


Overall, funding for research and other scholarly activities, including grants from federal agencies and contracts for research-related work, including the State Hygienic Lab, declined 2 percent, or $8.6 million, over FY 2017 for a total of $434.5 million. Total external funding, which includes the research funding plus UI Foundation monies, is down 1 percent, or $3.7 million, for a total of $554.0 million.


“The numbers are pretty remarkable given all of the challenges and pressures facing researchers and scholars and the UI these past few years,” says John C. Keller, interim vice president for research. “It’s a testament to the hard work of our faculty and staff, who are continuing to seek answers to the big questions across the disciplines, undaunted by our shifting fortunes and the trend of generational disinvestment in the state.”


Other highlights of core research funding in FY 18 include non-NIH-related Department of Health and Human Services funding, which increased 12 percent, or $2.1 million, for a total of $19.4 million; Department of Transportation funding, which increased 9 percent, or $237,000, for a total of $2.7 million; and Department of Education funding, which rose 6 percent, or $1.4 million, for a total of $24.5 million.


The top UI beneficiaries of the increases, based on percentage increases in research dollars, include the College of Law, up 124 percent or $640,657 over last year, to $1.2 million in FY 18; the Graduate College, up 104 percent or $1.5 million, to nearly $3 million; the College of Public Health (CPH), up 15 percent or $5.8 million, to $43.8 million; the Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine (CCOM), up 6 percent or $12.6 million, to $226.6 million; and the College of Pharmacy, also up 6 percent, or $985,172, to $18.7 million.


Research Funding Graphic

The number of proposals and grants and contracts awarded to UI researchers and scholars also increased for FY 18. The university saw a 6 percent or 229 submission increase in proposals, from 3,715 proposals in FY 17 to 3,944 in FY 18. Awards also increased by 1 percent, with 31 more than FY 17, for a total of 2,477.


Research and scholarship fueled by FY 18 funding crosses the disciplines and, very often, involved collaborations across disciplines, as the following examples illustrate:

  • Mona Garvin, associate professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has assembled a team of researchers from epidemiology, ophthalmology and visual sciences, and neurology, to explore the possibilities of using 3D image-analysis to track swelling of the optic nerve in patients over time. The team has received $1.69 million to date from the NIH, which will enable it to use spectral-domain optical coherence tomography (SD-OCT) to quickly and accurately determine the severity of the swelling. The information obtained by the 3D images will improve accurate diagnoses and inform proper management of patients who are affected by various conditions that cause swelling of the optic nerve.
  • Children of low-income and obese parents are at a high risk for obesity. With $706,958 in FY 18 funding from the NIH, researchers in the College of Public Health, Carver College of Medicine, and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences (CLAS) are exploring a new intervention strategy to prevent obesity in these high-risk children through changes in diet and physical activity habits for the whole family. Led by principal investigator Helena Laroche, assistant professor of internal medicine, the team’s innovative approach involves working with a health coach and engaging with community organizations such as health centers, food pantries, work-force training programs, and other agencies.
  • A unique collaboration between the UI and the Iowa City Community School District (ICCSD), “The Equity Implemented Partnership” project aims to investigate the connection between student experiences and outcomes, and to examine the link between these measures and racial disparities. With $197,286 from the Spencer Foundation, Sarah Bruch, assistant professor of sociology, will collaborate with colleagues in the UI Department of Economics and the ICCSD to use research-based solutions to enhance the ICCSD’s efforts to address issues of equity.
  • William T. Story, assistant professor of community and behavioral health, and Amy Weismann, associate director of the College of Law’s Center for Human Rights, in partnership with the Linn County Department of Public Health, are collaborating on a $68,659 project funded by the Iowa Department of Human Services to promote health services to Iowa’s refugees. The team will determine Iowa refugees’ cultural understandings of mental health needs and services, as well as evaluate and respond to barriers to effective treatment. They aim to identify best practices for treating refugee mental health needs and strengthen the abilities of resettlement agencies and other non-profits to respond to these needs, among other activities.