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KU’s Research Rising awards will address critical challenges facing humanity

Thu, 06/30/2022

Research Rising logo, University of Kansas

LAWRENCE — Creating more secure and resilient communities, harnessing the power of big data to discover disease-fighting drugs, unlocking the secrets of genomes for the benefit of life on our planet, and transforming understanding of and support for intellectual and developmental disabilities. These are among the noble goals of the four projects selected for funding through KU’s Research Rising competition.

Each research team will receive $3 million over five years to support projects that rose to the top of a strong pool of finalists after rigorous review by nationally and internationally recognized experts.

“These exciting projects bring together University of Kansas researchers from across disciplines to address critical challenges facing humanity. The knowledge, ideas, approaches and solutions generated by these teams will benefit people in Kansas and beyond,” said Simon Atkinson, vice chancellor for research. “What’s more, these teams will be highly competitive for federal research funding, so we anticipate a steady influx of external dollars in the future that will outpace KU Endowment’s initial $12 million investment to help establish these initiatives at KU.”

The projects align with one or more of KU’s five strategic research areas and will help the university achieve national preeminence in several areas of inquiry:

Securing Our Worlds: Physical, Digital, Social

This project will form an interdisciplinary, multicenter organization focused on finding solutions to otherwise unsolved problems related to safe and secure physical, digital and social environments — ultimately creating more secure and resilient communities. The principal investigator is Perry Alexander, AT&T Foundation Distinguished Professor of Electrical Engineering & Computer Science and director of the Institute for Information Sciences. He is joined by faculty colleagues in engineering, philosophy, history and journalism. The project aligns with two of KU’s strategic research areas: Safety & Security and Human Experience in the Digital Age. Watch the team’s video to learn more.

Big Data for Drug Discovery

This project will integrate cutting-edge biotechnologies that collect large amounts of data in order to create a more holistic understanding of human diseases and empower the discovery of new drugs to treat them. The principal investigator is Michael Wolfe, Mathias P. Mertes Professor of Medicinal Chemistry. He is joined by faculty colleagues in molecular biosciences, pharmacy, chemistry, electrical engineering & computer science and several departments at KU Medical Center. The project aligns with KU’s Molecules & Medicines strategic research area. Watch the team’s video to learn more.

Growing KU’s Interdisciplinary Strengths in Genomics

This project aims to unlock the secrets held in genomes to understand where we come from, how we fight disease, how organisms respond to a changing environment/climate, and new bioengineering approaches for sustainable development and health advances. The principal investigators are Rob Unckless, associate professor of molecular biosciences and director of KU’s Center for Genomics, and Lena Hileman, professor of ecology & evolutionary biology. They are joined by faculty colleagues in molecular biosciences, anthropology, ecology & evolutionary biology and engineering. The project aligns with four of KU’s strategic research areas: Human Experience in the Digital Age; Earth, Energy & Environment; Development Across the Lifespan; and Molecules & Medicines. Watch the team’s video to learn more.

Advancing Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities Research at KU

This project would maintain and enhance KU’s international prominence in intellectual and developmental disabilities (IDD) research by investing in genomics and data science approaches to IDD — two areas that are a high priority for the National Institutes of Health, critical for advancing understanding of basic mechanisms of IDDs, important for developing more targeted and effective therapeutics, and essential for reaching a larger and more diverse range of affected individuals. The principal investigator is John Colombo, professor of psychology and director of the Life Span Institute. He is joined by faculty colleagues in psychology, special education, medicine and psychiatry. The project aligns with KU’s Development Across the Lifespan strategic research area. Watch the team’s video to learn more.

Research Rising is one of the university’s most significant investments in its research enterprise to date. It differs from other internal funding competitions at KU in prioritizing tenure-track faculty recruitment as a central feature of the projects — building lively intellectual communities that are attractive for top researchers and scholars. The funded projects will bring 14 new faculty members to KU in a range of disciplines, as well as several postdoctoral fellows and staff positions. The projects also support KU’s commitment to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging by incorporating robust plans to increase representation and participation by members of historically marginalized groups, train new and existing researchers in DEIB best practices, and conduct public outreach to make science accessible and understandable for a wide audience.

Launching and implementing Research Rising is a key strategy to grow KU research in the Jayhawks Rising strategic plan.

“I’m thankful to KU Endowment for making this opportunity possible for our faculty, and I appreciate all the work that Vice Chancellor Atkinson and his team put in to make this such a strong competition,” said Barbara A. Bichelmeyer, provost and executive vice chancellor. “Our faculty generated so many powerful proposals that will be a significant benefit to our state, the nation and the world. I’m excited to see where this leads.”



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