Amid pandemic, record setting research thrives at UConn

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Research thrives at UConn! According to the article, the University of Connecticut set the record for the greatest amount of funding ever received in grants, due to a $19 million dollar increase this fiscal year. Photo received via UConn Research.

In fiscal year 2020, researchers at the University of Connecticut and UConn Health received $19 million more in grant funding than in the previous year to set a record for the greatest amount of funding the university has ever received in grants, according to a press release from UConn Today

The Office of the Vice President for Research reported that the university received more than $285 million in grant funding since July 2019. In that time, UConn and UConn Health also spent more on “research and other sponsored activity” than ever before in the university’s history, at nearly $250 million. 

This year, there was only a “relatively brief” period of time in March, when the livelihood of research at the university was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, UConn Vice President for Research Radenka Maric told UConn Today. 

Despite restrictions on travel and in-person events delaying some research projects, “our faculty staff and graduate students remained committed to both their work and our collective health. They, along with our university and state leaders, should be commended for their success in keeping the research engine running,” Maric said. 

“This increase is an indication of UConn’s commitment to create new knowledge and offer valuable experiential learning opportunities for our students,” UConn President Thomas Katsouleas said. 

“This increase is an indication of UConn’s commitment to create new knowledge and offer valuable experiential learning opportunities for our students.”

Thomas Katsouleas, UConn President

Before 2030, Katsouleas — who is in his third semester at the university — hopes to double the amount of research done at the university for UConn to stand out as “a destination for industry partners” and entrepreneurs. 

“I am very proud of our entire research community for what they have accomplished in the last year,” Katsouleas said. 

According to the Manager of Research Communications for the Office of the Vice President for Research, Jessica McBride, Ph.D., most research universities have a way for faculty members to bring their discoveries to the business world beyond academia. 

Granted that UConn is one of the largest research universities in the nation, it is secret that many students want to get involved, and utilize their classroom learning to real lab situations. UConn Research provides endless opportunities for students across diverse majors to get involved in a research lab. Photo retrieved via UConn Undergraduate Research.

At UConn, the Technology Commercialization Services of the Office of the Vice President for Research aims to “expedite and facilitate the transformation of UConn discoveries into products and services that benefit patients, industry and society,” according to their website . 

When a faculty member makes a discovery in research they think has commercialization potential, they can go through the Technology Commercialization Services to patent their research, or the Technology Commercialization Services will help that faculty member start up their business on their own. 

In July, researchers at UConn were issued a patent for a breathalyzer that will be able to detect four different diseases — diabetes, pulmonary inflammation, liver malfunction and high cholesterol levels — all at once. Eventually, the inventors hope to create a device that is user-friendly enough for diabetes patients to be able to use themselves. 

“Tracking these biomarkers in the breath will enable users to monitor their health status and intervene with lifestyle changes or seek medical attention if there is a cause for concern,” UConn Today wrote

“Tracking these biomarkers in the breath will enable users to monitor their health status and intervene with lifestyle changes or seek medical attention if there is a cause for concern.”

UConn Today

However, McBride explained not all research with potential for commercialization at the university results in a physical, marketable product. She mentioned UConn Health’s Alcohol Research Center (ARC), which focuses on the treatment methods of alcoholism and, in June 2019, received $7.5 million in federal funding to continue the program into its 45th year. 

Each grant to the ARC, awarded by the National Health Institute and the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA), includes research funding for five years. The ARC was established at the university in 1978 when the UConn Health Department of Psychiatry won its first of eight grants from the NIAAA — alongside nine other institutions. 

Today, the ARC at UConn is the longest federally funded research center at the university, and the longest NIAAA funded center in the nation, with “unmatched longevity.” 

According to UConn Today, UConn’s ARC has become “one of the longest-running and most prolific federally funded research centers of any kind in the U.S.” 

The Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InChip) is  is a multidisciplinary research institute dedicated to the creation and dissemination of new scientific knowledge and theoretical frameworks in the areas of health behavior and health behavior change at multiple levels of analysis. Photo retrieved via Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy website.

Additionally, McBride mentioned that the university’s Institute for Collaboration on Health, Intervention, and Policy (InCHIP), which received nearly $22 million in new grant funding in the 2020 fiscal year, focuses a lot of its research on society’s response to major health problems, such as infectious diseases. 

“Where they really shine is moments like right now,” McBride said. 

Since March, the InCHIP has been tapped by UConn administrators for their research to help guide the university through the COVID-19 pandemic and the reopening process. 

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