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UK's Igniting Research Collaborations Program Yields Return On Investment for Team Science

By Kristie Colon

The University of Kentucky’s Igniting Research Collaborations (IRC) grant program has awarded nearly $300,000 in pilot grants to support cross-college interdisciplinary research and scholarship.

IRC seeks to increase interdisciplinary scientific engagement and leverage the breadth of expertise across campus to tackle important health problems in the Commonwealth. UK is one of eight universities in the nation with the full range of undergraduate, graduate, professional, medical and agricultural programs on one campus, which creates distinct opportunities for collaborative research. 

"Programs like the IRC give us the opportunity to drive discovery and find creative solutions to complex problems in Kentucky," said Linda Dwoskin, associate dean of research at the UK College of Pharmacy. "Ultimately, we’re transforming patient-centered care by facilitating collaborative and team-science research.”

The success of the IRC program has been outstanding. Since its inception, a total of $681,000 have been awarded to IRC pilot projects, and 17 new grant proposals have been submitted to extramural funding agencies. From these proposals, researchers have brought to UK more than $11,727,139 in new extramural funds that emanated directly from IRC investment.

In the 2017 round of funding, the IRC received 49 applications in its original request for proposal submissions. The proposals were evaluated based on their cross-college, multidisciplinary research, the degree of innovation, and the perceived probability of success, in terms of sustainability beyond the period of pilot funding and significance of the potential contributions and outcomes. A total of 10 pilot projects were selected for funding, involving 25 faculty members, representing eight UK colleges, and the distribution of $290,000 in funding.

“The impact of the IRC is far reaching,” said Jill Kolesar, professor in the UK College of Pharmacy, co-chair of the University of Kentucky Markey Cancer Center Molecular Tumor Board and recipient of two IRC grants. “These types of grants help us think outside the box and begin collaborations with experts in a variety of fields. I’ll be working with my colleagues in Engineering, Chemistry, and Pharmacy to further cancer research and better enable precision medicine. These funds open up channels across campus, allowing for innovative solutions.”

Vince Venditto, assistant professor in the UK College of Pharmacy and a collaborator on one of Kolesar’s grants, notes that the IRC promotes creative and innovative thinking.

“It’s another example of how UK actively works to enable meaningful partnerships across colleges," Venditto said. "This team-based approach to research allows our students to receive interdisciplinary training and get creative in their thinking. We’re broadening their education while ultimately improving patient care.”

The 2017 IRC pilot projects are listed below:

  • Targeted separation of patient derived cells for high throughput generation of exosome like vesicles for personalized medicine therapy: Kolesar, College of Pharmacy (COP)/College of Medicine (COM); Richards, College of Arts & Sciences (A&S); Berron, College of Engineering (ENG); Venditto, COP
  • Qualifying industrial hemp CBD oils for studies on brain development: Williams, College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE); Chappell/Pauly, COP
  • Evaluating online cognitive behavioral therapy to reduce stress, insomnia and sedative hypnotic use in Appalachian women aged 45+: Moloney, A&S; Moga, COP/College of Public Health (CPH); Badour, A&S
  • Gold-based ligand discovery for c-Myc inhibition using microarrays: Awuah, A&S/COP; Berron, ENG
  • Improving effectiveness of interventions for co-occurring post-traumatic stress disorder: Badour, A&S; Rush, COM
  • Biogeochemical characterization of backwater wetlands for improving water quality in disturbed Appalachian watersheds on the Ohio river: Ford, CAFE; Erhardt, A&S
  • Investigation of the antiepileptic potential of docosahexaenoic acid in a knockout mouse of Lafora disease: Sunderam, ENG; Gentry, COM; Pauly, COP
  • Fluid balance and traumatic brain injury: Bachstetter/Han, COM; Santollo, A&S; Glueck, College of Health Sciences (COHS)
  • Development of inhibitors against Porphyromonas gingivalis (Pg) gingipains: Gonzalez, College of Dentistry (DEN); Tsodikov/Tsodikova, COP
  • Identification of novel therapeutics strategies for colorectal cancer based on genomic profiling: Kolesar, COP/COM; Zaytseva, COM; Wang, CPH

For the 2017 round of IRC funding, the offices of the deans of the UK Colleges of Pharmacy; Public Health; Agriculture, Food, and Environment; Engineering; Medicine; Arts & Sciences; and Dentistry contributed funds, as did the UK Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS).