An interdisciplinary research strategy focused on collaboration and a commitment to community-engaged research has attracted the national spotlight to Virginia Commonwealth University’s research enterprise, and helped garner an all-time university record in sponsored awards.
Sponsored awards reach all-time high
The sponsored research awards portfolio at VCU closed fiscal year 2014 at an all-time institutional high of $262.3 million — a 5.8 percent increase compared to the previous year.
A quantitative measure of VCU’s success is found in the research funding resulting from investigator-initiated grants. This amounted to about $187 million in FY 2013, and increased to $206 million in FY 2014 — representing a 10 percent increase in the faculty-driven core funding of the VCU portfolio.
During FY 2014, VCU was awarded several significant federal grants. For example, VCU received an $18.1 million, multiyear grant from the Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health to study novel tobacco products. Other areas of strength for VCU include the National Institutes of Health and the Department of Education portfolios.
Federal funding agencies are placing a premium on interdisciplinary research proposals, and the collaborative culture of VCU will be an asset in competing for a broad range of federal funding opportunities.
VCU researchers already are competing with increasing success for multiprogrammatic awards that involve interdisciplinary projects with investigators who typically span multiple departments and schools. A number of these types of proposals were funded in FY 2014, including center grants, training grants and multisite cooperative projects.
For three consecutive years, VCU has been ranked by the National Science Foundation among the top 100 research universities in the nation in federal research expenditures. VCU is currently ranked at 101 in total research expenditures.
VCU wins 2014 Magrath Award
VCU took home the 2014 C. Peter Magrath University Community Engagement Award, a national award recognizing model programs that have had significant impact on their communities.
VCU was chosen from a pool of four regional winners from the 2014 Engagement Scholarship/W.K. Kellogg Foundation Engagement Award: VCU, Oregon State University, the University of New Hampshire and Purdue University.
VCU’s entry reflects efforts by the School of Pharmacy’s Pharmacist Collaborative Care and Outreach in the Community program, which includes seven academic-community partnerships with independent senior-living facilities and underserved clinics, five large-scale community outreach programs and programs to train the next generation of health professionals.
PCOC initiatives focus on underserved populations including the uninsured, older adults, homeless individuals and those living in rural areas. Through the initiatives, 14 School of Pharmacy faculty members, 500 students and 35 residents have provided more than 20,000 patient care encounters in the Greater Richmond Area. PCOC initiatives are integrated with service-learning courses, advanced pharmacy practice experiences, electives and interprofessional education experiences.
The award recognizes programs that demonstrate how colleges and universities have redesigned their learning, discovery and engagement missions to become even more involved with their communities.
Community-based care model for seniors expands
A $1.5 million grant is allowing the School of Nursing to expand an interdisciplinary, community-based pilot program that helps underserved older adults better manage their chronic health conditions and coordinate their care.
The three-year grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration will expand and refine an existing model of interprofessional health care education and clinical service focused on improving the health and well-being of residents in their homes. The project — directed by Pamela Parsons, Ph.D., geriatric nurse practitioner, assistant professor in the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU School of Nursing — eventually will serve as a model across the city and beyond.
Students in the VCU schools of Nursing, Pharmacy, Medicine and Social Work, overseen by licensed clinical faculty, work in teams to provide coordinated care for low-income, often low-literacy, older adults with limited access to care — adults who may require multiple providers to manage their complex care.
Students get to see residents within their home setting, while also having the opportunity to watch professionals across the spectrum of health care work together. As the program expands through the HRSA grant, more students will be able to participate, and the clinics will be offered twice a week. Through a partnership with the Better Housing Coalition, the clinics will expand to other living facilities in Richmond during the second and third years of the grant. In addition, the program will add a behavioral health component, the teams will start electronic charting and a new pharmaceutical model will be developed to allow the teams to administer outpatient pharmacy services on site.
$18.1 million grant supports study of novel tobacco products
VCU received an $18.1 million federal grant — VCU’s third largest to date — to study so-called modified-risk tobacco products and other novel tobacco products, such as electronic cigarettes, and to develop an evaluation tool that will help inform U.S. tobacco regulatory policy.
Researchers in the VCU Department of Psychology’s Center for the Study of Tobacco Products in the College of Humanities and Sciences will study methods for evaluating modified-risk tobacco products as one of 14 Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science, a new program launched by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the National Institutes of Health.
Thomas Eissenberg, Ph.D., professor of psychology and director of VCU’s Clinical Behavioral Pharmacology Laboratory, and Robert Balster, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and toxicology in the VCU School of Medicine, are the co-principal investigators on the grant. The project will span both campuses of VCU, involving the College of Humanities and Sciences, the Massey Cancer Center and the School of Medicine.
VCU’s center is part of a network of Tobacco Centers of Regulatory Science that includes Yale, Ohio State, the University of North Carolina and the University of Southern California. The program will be coordinated by the National Institutes of Health Tobacco Regulatory Science Program. The VCU grant that forms the Center for the Study of Tobacco Products includes two partner institutions: Penn State-Hershey and the American University of Beirut.
Researchers improve access to AIDS drugs
A $4.4 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is giving the VCU School of Engineering and collaborating research universities an opportunity to supply developing countries with affordable access to AIDS drugs.
B. Frank Gupton, Ph.D., VCU School of Engineering research professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Life Science Engineering, is leading an interdisciplinary team that will focus on cost improvements for the drug nevirapine by holistically applying the principles of modern synthetic chemistry, advanced analytical methodologies and next-generation processes. The World Health Organization considers nevirapine a first-line therapy for the treatment of AIDS.
Gupton and other researchers from the VCU School of Engineering have organized a partnership with several higher education institutions. This collaboration, known as the Medicine for All Initiative, includes specialists from the University of Washington, Florida State University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Photo by Shawn Martin.
Grants fund heart failure research
VCU researchers received two grants for a combined $1.32 million from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to conduct clinical trials to evaluate the effectiveness of a new anti-inflammatory therapy and a similar regimen for the treatment of heart attack and heart failure.
Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D., professor of medicine in the VCU School of Medicine and the VCU Pauley Heart Center, and Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., assistant and research professor in the VCU School of Pharmacy’s Department of Pharmacotherapy and Outcomes Science, will serve as co-principal investigators on the two clinical trials.
The first grant, which will award $660,000 over three years, is funding a multicenter clinical trial to evaluate the effectiveness of targeted anti-inflammatory therapy in 100 patients with a severe form of heart attack known as ST-elevation myocardial infarction. Previous studies by Abbate and Van Tassell have shown that this approach may reduce the risk of heart failure after a heart attack.
The second grant, which awards $660,000 over two years, will fund a single-center clinical trial to evaluate a similar regimen in 60 patients who have a specific condition known as diastolic heart failure. According to Abbate and Van Tassell, approximately half of all heart failure patients suffer from the condition. There are no approved treatments for this type of heart failure.
Photo of (left) Benjamin Van Tassell, Pharm.D., and (right) Antonio Abbate, M.D., Ph.D.
Grant helps improve academic outcomes for at-risk students
VCU will lead a three-year research grant of $1.5 million from the Institute of Education Sciences to develop a professional development model that will help sixth- through eighth-grade teachers support all students, including those who have difficulties and are at risk for poor academic outcomes.
Thomas Farmer, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Special Education and Disability Policy in the School of Education, was awarded the grant along with co-principal investigators from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill and Pennsylvania State University.
During middle school, many students struggle academically, feel they don’t belong in school and perform poorly in their classes. Some will drop out. The purpose of the professional model, Supporting Early Adolescent Learning and Social Success (SEALS II), is to build on the original SEALS program that focused on supporting sixth-graders as they transitioned into middle school.
SEALS II will extend the work of the original program, which has been shown to create classroom cultures in which students are academically motivated, support each other’s engagement in instruction, have fewer social difficulties and concerns about bullying and have better academic outcomes.
University fund encourages grassroots innovation
For two years in a row, VCU has provided seed money to support innovative pilot initiatives proposed by the university’s own faculty, staff and students. Called the Quest Innovation Fund, the program encourages change and participation by anyone in the university to help advance its Quest for Distinction strategic plan. Already the university has funded more than 30 projects that span many areas of the university and medical center and include enhancements to the classroom or laboratory experience, efficiency improvements and novel uses of new technology.
of the total awards came from federal funding sources
million in sponsored research awards
research support agreements
of VCU students have a high or moderate interest in starting their own company
of VCU students have already started a company, have a business idea or are actively pursuing business formation