Category: grant

$1.44 million NIH grant to statistics researcher


Wenxuan-Zhong.jpgA better understanding of epigenetics, or changes in our genetic activity that do not precipitate changes in our genetic code, is one of outcome of expanded research capabilties. As technology gets more refined, broadening possibilities for scientific investigation and, indeed, our ability to inquire into the nature of things, our best researchers gain new insights on a range of questions, conditions and phenomena. This of course includes the latest in electron micrscopy and advanced clinical trials but also mathematical and statistical modeling techniques that increasingly hold the key to advanced analysis and identification:

 [A] statistics researcher has been awarded a $1.44 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to develop statistical models that may one day be used to predict cancer and other diseases.

Wenxuan Zhong, an associate professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences department of statistics, will use the funds to develop predictive statistical models based on epigenetic change patterns.

Epigenetics—epi meaning ‘over' or ‘other' in Greek—is the study of changes in a gene's behavior that can be passed down without actually altering the genetic code. Like an airport traffic controller, the epigenome passes along instructions that change the way the gene is expressed by switching genes on and off.


Zhong hopes to shed light on the role of epigenetic changes in illnesses, particularly cancer.
One form of epigenetic change known as DNA methylation is particularly understudied in this area.

"There's a large amount of evidence that a process known as DNA methylation is a key player in cancer development," Zhong said. "Today's next-generation sequencing techniques give us the data we need to close the gap in this area of research."

Zhong and her team will develop a suite of statistical models to broaden the understanding of how epigenetic patterns are established and maintained during normal development and under different environmental conditions.

Large amounts of epigenetic and genomic data are routinely collected, processed and stored. Statisticians like Zhong look for ways to make the data tell the story.

Congratulations to Dr. Zhong and her team on this new support for an important path of inquiry. These pursuits represent the very best of university research and the leading edge of scientific discovery.

NIH supports UGA glycoscience training program


Glycogen_structure.pngComplex carbohydrates are the key to cell behavior, and the ability to study them at UGA and train the next generation of researchers just received a great boost:

University of Georgia researchers have received a five-year $850,000 grant from the National Institutes of Health to establish a glycoscience training program for pre-doctoral graduate students that will help train a new generation of carbohydrate researchers.

The award makes UGA one of only 26 NIH-funded universities to offer specialized training designed to bridge gaps between biology and chemistry, and it is the only program focused especially on the science of complex carbohydrates.

Complex carbohydrates, more commonly known as glycans, cover the surface of every living cell in the human body-allowing those cells to communicate, replicate and survive. But they are also involved in the development and spread of many diseases, including cancer, viral and bacterial infections, diabetes and cardiovascular disorders.

"UGA is home to a powerful glycoscience research program, so our faculty are uniquely qualified to lead this new initiative," said Michael Pierce, Distinguished Research Professor in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and co-principal investigator for the project. "This field is revolutionizing our understanding of fundamental biological processes and disease treatment, and we need to support rigorous training for new generations of researchers."

Mentoring students in chemistry, biochemistry and molecular biology; special training in glycomics; specially designed courses, public seminars and an annual retreat developed specifically for the new program; all of these innovations are made possible by past investments in people and facilities that not only come to fruition in the form of breakthrough discoveries, but leading-edge training programs as well. These programmatic innovations help the university continue to draw the brightest graduate students to campus to work, teach, learn and train. Congratulations to our Franklin teams at the CCRC. 

Expanding the fight against Infectious Diseases


CEIGD.pngThe UGA Faculty of Infectious Diseases is comprised of many Franklin College faculty members and departments, researchers who have garnered significant resources in the fight against a variety of global health challenges:

"The board of regents investment in infectious disease research provided a unique opportunity to recruit strategically to bridge existing strengths in veterinary medicine, ecology, tropical and emerging diseases, and vaccine development as well as the rapidly expanding the new College of Public Health at UGA," said Duncan Krause, director of UGA's Faculty of Infectious Diseases and a professor of microbiology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences. "The resulting synergy has been exceptional."

Their studies promise to continue to enhance the research enterprise at UGA and foster new partnerships, both within the UGA Faculty of Infectious Diseases, which brings together researchers across UGA colleges and schools, and with researchers globally.

"A particular strength of the faculty members recruited through the board of regents initiative is their ability to identify promising collaborative opportunities that enable new research capabilities and often spawn new research directions," Krause said.


Don Harn and Biao He study very different infectious agents, but both expand UGA capabilities in vaccine development. A major research focus of the Harn lab is schistosomiasis, a disease caused by worm-like organisms found in water. This work builds upon UGA's global leadership efforts to control this disease, including the Gates Foundation SCORE program here under the direction of Dan Colley. Harn's research also explores how schistosomiasis can limit the effectiveness of vaccines against HIV and other viral diseases.

He has identified a virus with potential as a delivery vector for vaccines and gene therapy. This discovery has spawned multiple new collaborations with researchers at UGA and beyond.

Having met an Infectious Diseases researcher from another Franklin department earlier today, I can vouch for this program's broad reach across our campus. The nature of fighting emerging and established global diseases dictates an interdisciplinary mix of specialties plus an ability to synthesize voluminous amounts of data even as they expand on it. Data management and sharing is an emerging challeneg itself for scientists and researchers in the digital age, one will revisit soon.


Hopkinson awarded Sloan Foundation Fellowship


sloan_foundation_hopkinson.jpgBig congratulations to assistant professor of marine sciences Brian Hopkinson, who was awarded a 2014 Sloan Foundation grant to support his work on rising carbon dioxide levels in the oceans:

The fellowship is presented by the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation each year to early-career scientists and scholars whose achievements and potential identify them as part of the next generation of scientific leaders.  This year, 126 fellowships were awarded to promising young scientists like Hopkinson in eight scientific and technical disciplines.

Hopkinson, an assistant professor at UGA since 2010, was awarded the $50,000 fellowship to continue his work on investigating the physiological changes that occur in marine algae and corals due to rising CO2 concentrations in the ocean.

“As CO2 in the atmosphere increases, CO2 increases in the ocean and evidence suggests these increases cause higher rates of photosynthesis in the ocean,” said Hopkinson. “The molecular details of how that works were not very well understood.  But in some of our recent research, we established a decent explanation for how that happens.”

A very prestigious award - the Sloan Foundation announced the awards in a full page ad in the New York Times yesterday. More great news about another bright young faculty member. Very well done.

UGA Librairies Research Grant



Apply for a Research Grant with UGA Libraries - Seven undergraduate research awards up for grabs

By Jessica Luton


Have a great idea for research but need a little funding help? The University of Georgia Libraries’ Undergraduate Research Awards are currently accepting applications for seven cash prizes totaling $2,000 for students who demonstrate distinction in research and academic inquiry. Find the requirements for applying here

Established in support of the University’s mission of instruction, research and service mission, these scholarships are meant to encourage scholarship and emphasize the research process using library resources and services.

This is a great opportunity for undergraduate students, especially those that may be embarking on a research project for the very first time.

Students must be enrolled in the CURO or Honors programs OR submit abstracts of their projects to the CURO Symposium by Feb. 14, in addition to applying for the research award.

Take advantage of this unique opportunity. But act fast. Deadlines are quickly approaching.  Read more about the UGA Libraries Undergraduate Research Award here and learn more about applying for the CURO Symposium here.

Kudos, January 2014


With the New Year arrives awards, acknowledgments and congratulations to UGA faculty, staff, students and alumni for their many accomplishments. A sampling of these starts with this very cool use of the internet on Friday, January 10. The White House hosted a panel discussion on the the 'Polar Vortex' featuring our very own J. Marshall Shepherd and host of other climate and weather luminaries:

WetheGeek hangout

Archived video of the discussion is here

$7.4 million NIH grant to Franklin researchers


glycoenzymesFor the second time in two months,  a group of UGA researchers have received significant grant support from the NIH to study and experiment on the sugar molecules known as glycans:

[The researchers] have received a five-year $7.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to help better understand one of the most fundamental building blocks of life.

$10m NIH grant to Center for Biomedical Glycomics


Glycocalix slide photo digitizedGlycobiology is very complex science - the study the structures, biosynthesis and biology of the sugar chains, or glycans, that are essential components in all living things. Glycans have been the focus of much attention by UGA researchers recently, and now glycobiology is at the center of big new NIH grant to another team of Franklin College researchers:

Researchers at the University of Georgia have received a five-year, $10.4 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to support the National Center for Biomedical Glycomics, a consortium of UGA faculty and staff working to develop new technologies for the analysis of glycans.

Glycans are sugar molecules that coat the surface of every living cell. Once thought to be relatively unimportant, scientists now recognize that glycans play critical roles in cell regulation, human health and disease progression.

"This is a big piece of the human disease pie that science is only beginning to explore," said Michael Pierce, NCBG principal investigator and member of UGA's Complex Carbohydrate Research Center. "The tide is starting to turn, and researchers are beginning to appreciate how important these sugar molecules are, so our glycomics center exists to develop the technologies and tools to investigate these critical structures."

Our understanding of basic science and its impact on human health continues to grow, and we are indebted to the teams of UGA researchers and the university, which has made interdisciplinary research a reality by developing the facilities for it to thrive. And again, the federal funding mechanisms play such an important role in this work, incentiving work in basic science research that can potentially benefit the widest population, work that itself might be left on the table for generations in a private-sector R & D environment. This process of discovery itself is a complex system, but this consortium is a terrific signal that it is working.

Image: Glycocalix bei Bacillus Anthracis, courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, via Wikimedia Commons.

Starai awarded $1.5m to study Legionnaires' disease


Originally named from an outbreak at an American Legion convention in 1976, Legionellosis or Legionaires' disease is a severe type of pneumonia that affects only a small percentage of the population but can be fatal. UGA researcher Vincent Starai was recently awarded $1,503,565 by the National Institutes of Health to investigate how the bacterium that causes Legionellosis overcome the body’s defenses.

Starai is an assistant professor who holds a joint appointment with the departments of microbiology in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences and infectious diseases in the College of Veterinary Medicine.


Bacteria enter the lungs and are attacked by phagocytes, the white blood cells that fight infection. Normally phagocytes eat foreign particles, engulfing and breaking them into smaller fragments within a specialized compartment called the lysosome, but Legionella bacteria somehow block this process. Instead of fusing with the lysosome and disintegrating, the pathogen survives as a whole entity inside the phagocyte. The microbe then multiplies and reproduces inside the larger host cell. When the phagocyte finally dies, it releases a batch of new Legionella microbes ready to infect more phagocytes.
Over the next five years, Starai will look at proteins secreted by Legionella that prevent the host cell’s internal membranes from fusing with the lysosome. The fusion of these membranes is an essential step in the degradation of invading microbes.

NSF renews coastal research grant


Sapelo-island estuary daylight.The UGA Marine Institute on Sapelo Island was founded in 1953 and has been at the center of ecological research on salt-marsh coastal ecoystems ever since. That work, lead by our department of marine sciences, continues apace with the renewal of an important NSF grant:

A consortium of universities headed by the University of Georgia will continue ecological field research on the marshes and estuaries of the Georgia coast following the renewal of a six-year, $5.8 million grant from the National Science Foundation. The award will help scientists understand how these ecosystems function, track changes over time and predict how they might be affected by future variations in climate and human activities.

"Discerning long-term trends in natural systems requires careful scientific analysis over the course of many years," said Merryl Alber, Georgia Coastal Ecosystems Long-Term Ecological Research project manager and professor of marine sciences at UGA.

Congratulations to all involved in the consortium, whose work will take on added urgency in the coming years, as coastal areas become the focus of increased observation on the effects of climate change. 

Image: Sapelo Island, courtesy UGA Photography.