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‘Federal support for research is critical to the University’s scientific enterprise’

Joel Seligman, president and CEO; Rob Clark, provost and senior vice president for research; and Mark Taubman, Medical Center CEO, issued this statement Wednesday on proposed cuts to research funding:

The President’s FY18 budget outline submitted to Congress last month contains cuts to federal research spending that could have a significant impact on the University of Rochester, our community, and U.S. global leadership in science and innovation.

Scientific innovation has always been fundamental to the University of Rochester. As one of the nation’s leading research institutions, one of our core missions is to help make the world ever better by advancing the frontiers of human knowledge for the betterment of society. The discoveries made by our scientists have improved lives here in Rochester and beyond. Pediatric and cancer vaccines developed at the University are saving millions of lives across the globe and the work of our scientists is helping shape Rochester’s emerging knowledge-based economy in fields such as the life sciences, optics, photonics, imaging, alternative energy, and advanced manufacturing.

Federal support for research is critical to the University’s scientific enterprise; over the last five years, we have received more than $1.7 billion in total research funding, 75% of which comes from the federal government. Federal support represents on average more than 60% of total national academic research and development spending annually.

The proposed cuts would severely impact our research programs and University operations, curtail our ability to recruit and retain research talent and train the next generation of scientists, and significantly diminish the University’s contribution to regional economic growth.

Furthermore, these cuts would further erode the nation’s global leadership in scientific innovation. Federal support for research has been stagnant for the last decade and while the U.S. reduces its commitment to science, other nations, including China, Japan, South Korea, India, and Singapore, are racing forward and investing heavily in research and development.

The proposed budget calls for cuts in the National Institutes of Health (-18%), the Department of Energy (-5.6%), and the Environmental Protection Agency (-31%). It also proposes cuts in NASA’s earth sciences research programs. Although the document does not address the National Science Foundation, there is concern that agency could be singled out for reductions as well. The proposed budget also includes cuts and the elimination of departments that fund the arts and humanities, education, and other important programs which will be addressed in a future communication.

The proposed FY18 cuts are in addition to the $18 billion in cuts the President has proposed for the current fiscal year that still remain unresolved. Among the suggested cuts, which would be absorbed over the last five months of FY17, are $350 million from the National Science Foundation and $1.2 billion from the National Institutes of Health.

University leadership and the Office of Government and Community Relations have been meeting and communicating with our Congressional delegation with regard to the proposed cuts and is working closely with organizations such as the Association of American Universities (AAU), the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), and other groups such as The Science Coalition (TSC), the Ad Hoc Group for Medical Research, and the broader research community to voice concerns and urge stable, sustained funding increases for federal research programs.

While these cuts are deeply troubling, it is important to note that the President’s annual budget proposal is exactly that—a proposal—and it faces procedural and political hurdles. Federal support for research enjoys bipartisan support on Capitol Hill, and it is our hope that many cuts in the proposed FY18 budget will not be enacted by Congress.

Once these initial budget proposals are further refined in the weeks and months ahead, there will be an opportunity for faculty and staff to voice their views to Congress. To ensure that we use your advocacy to its greatest impact, we will continue to update you on further developments and timing in future communications.

State budget includes $320 million in capital funding for life sciences

The New York State 2017-18 budget includes a significant investment in research as part of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s life sciences initiative.

“New York State is a global leader in biomedical research and innovation, but we are at risk of falling behind and losing some of our brightest scientific minds as the federal government threatens devastating cuts to medical research and as other states make substantial investments in talent and infrastructure,” said Mark Taubman, CEO of the Medical Center and dean of the School of Medicine and Dentistry. “Thanks to Governor Cuomo’s leadership, we will continue to be at the forefront of new discoveries, cures and treatments, accelerate the commercialization of new technologies, retain and attract top scientists, and serve as an engine for economic growth. I applaud both the Governor and the Legislature for this historic commitment. ”

The budget includes $320 million in capital funding to support life sciences, of which $20 million is specifically targeted for bioscience research labs and academic medical centers. This investment in research will be matched by the medical schools 2:1 and be used to create new labs that will focus on biomedical research that will lead to better treatment and cures for diseases that ail New York’s residents.  State funds will be used for laboratory construction, purchase of analytic equipment, and other expenses related to the recruitment and retention of scientific talent.

Matson, Wojtovich receive Furth Fund awards

Ellen Matson, assistant professor of chemistry, and Andrew Wojtovich, assistant professor of anesthesiology, are recipients of  2017 Furth Fund awards from the Provost’s Office.

The Furth Fund, established through the generosity of Valerie and Frank Furth, was created to provide early career scientists with $10,000 in research funds. These funds are used to promote the research activities of the faculty member, which may include the purchase of new equipment or support for graduate students or postdocs.

Research in the Matson group focuses on probing cooperative reactivity between non-traditional ligand platforms and first-row transition metals, specifically their ability to facilitate chemical transformations of industrial, environmental, and biological significance. Extending the definition of “ligand” to bound moieties capable of intimately participating in reactivity, the Matson group is interested in the development of new ligand platforms with unique steric and electronic properties.

“Dr. Matson is internationally recognized for her research as a graduate student and a postdoctoral fellow in the field of synthetic inorganic chemistry. Her established track record of productivity is exemplified by her multiple national recognitions (ACS Division of Inorganic Chemistry Young Investigator Award, Iota Sigma Pi Anna Louise Hoffman Award for Outstanding Achievement in Graduate Research) and over 25 publications in scientific journals,” says Todd Krauss, professor and chair of chemistry. “Dr. Matson was recently named a recipient of the National Science Foundation CAREER award, receiving this prestigious award after only her first submission.”

The Wojtovich lab focuses on the roles of reactive oxygen species (ROS) in mitochondrial physiology and stress signaling. The lab uses model organisms and optogenetic tools to control the site and timing of ROS production. With these tools, the lab investigates complex ROS biology in order to gain a better understanding of ROS on a nano-scale. The lab uses a wide variety of approaches and translates findings from C. elegans to mammals. The expected outcome is a framework for developing targeted antioxidant therapies to overcome the obstacles that have led to so many clinical trial failures for existing antioxidant drugs.

“Even before reaching the faculty level he (Wojtovich) had achieved a strong track record of attracting extramural funding,” says Michael Eaton, the Denham S. Ward Professor and Chair of Anesthesiology.  “More recently, he has cemented this record by getting his very first R01 application funded on the first round (9th percentile); this is quite a spectacular achievement.  At age 33, he is nearly a decade ahead of the typical age at first RO1. In addition to his strong funding track record, Andrew also has an impressive publication record for someone so early in his career.”

Omega 3 fatty acid studied for prevention of a type of heart failure

Researchers are taking a fresh look at an omega 3 fatty acid for the prevention and treatment of a particular type of heart disease called diastolic heart failure or heart failure with preserved ejection fraction.

This occurs when the heart muscle becomes stiff and can’t pump oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. There are no effective therapies for patients with this condition; doctors can only treat risk factors for its development, such as diabetes and high blood pressure.

Robert C. Block, associate professor in the Department of Public Health Sciences, is partnering with scientists from Penn State and the University of Minnesota to analyze the effects of a specific omega-3 fatty acid called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA).

Block will review data from a medical research study that has followed more than 6,000 men and women in the U.S. since 2000. Called MESA, for Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis, the study includes white, African American, Hispanic, and Asian participants and captures information on lifestyle habits, such as diet, blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and risk factors for heart disease. Where past studies have looked at fish oil supplements that contain omega 3’s, Block will analyze the relationship between EPA in blood (which increases with seafood intake) and diastolic heart failure.

Block’s study collaborators, Gregory Shearer, associate professor of nutritional sciences at Penn State, and Timothy O’Connell, assistant professor of integrative biology and physiology at the University of Minnesota, will simultaneously study EPA’s influence on a molecular level. Their work will focus on a receptor in the heart that may aid in the effectiveness of EPA.

Congratulations to . . .

Poet Jennifer Grotz, professor of English, who has been named a Guggenheim Fellow for 2017, one of 11 poets to be recognized among this year’s honorees. The fellowship, established in 1925, is designed to provide creative freedom and support recipients “in any manner they deem necessary to their work.” Read more about Grotz and the inspiration behind her latest book.

The University’s first two graduate student Public Humanities Fellows, who have won awards sponsored by Humanities New York in partnership with the Andrew W. Mellon foundation.  Daniel Rinn of history will carry out a project titled “Rochester and the Environment:  Where Do We Go From Here?”  He plans to organize collaborations between University faculty members and local groups concerned with environmental issues in order to sponsor films, lectures, and discussions on conservation and sustainability.  Almudena Escobar Lopez of visual and cultural studies will explore, and make public, archival materials from the New York Filmmakers’ Cooperative in her project “Common Forms:  Collaborative Aesthetics and Cooperativism.”  Her proposal includes a traveling exhibition and film series to raise questions about the politics of visual culture and its social consequences.

CFAR issues three requests for applications

The Center for AIDS Research requests applications for:

1. Up to three pilot awards of $50,000 each for projects focusing on:

  • HIV-associated cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease
  • Stress, trauma, and vulnerable populations
  • HIV cure

Applications are due May 22. Additional information and specific application requirements can be found in the full pilot announcement.

2. Up to three pilot awards of $25,000 each for projects that address the National Institutes of Health HIV/AIDS High Priority Research Topics that have been designated by the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR).  Applications are due May 22. Additional information and specific application requirements can be found in the full pilot announcement.

3. Up to three awards of $10,000 for clinical and translational pharmacology proposals that address specific topics, including:

  • HIV, antiviral pharmacology and drug development
  • HIV, antiviral pharmacology and drug interactions research
  • HIV pharmacology and cure
  • HIV pharmacology and HCV/HBV co-infection, tuberculosis, and end-organ/inflammation

This is a collaborative application that should include principal investigators and co-investigators from both University of Rochester and University at Buffalo. Applications due May 30. Additional information and specific application requirements can be found in the full pilot announcement.

Click here for more information. Contact Laura Enders at with any questions.

PhD dissertation defenses

Tian Zhang, Biology, “Global Quantification of Proteome Dynamics.” 1 p.m., April 14, 2017. Goergen 108. Advisor: Sina Ghaemmaghami.

Colin Funai, Electrical Engineering, “Enabling and Optimizing Resource Constrained Ad-Hoc Mobile Clouds.” 10 a.m., April 17, 2017. Hopeman 335. Advisor: Wendi Heinzelman.

Aizhong Zhang, Optics, “Dynamic Characterization of Ocular Surface with Thermography and Macroscopic Imaging Ellipsometry.” 9 a.m., April 18, 2017. Hutchison 473. Advisor: James Zavislan.

Clarence Ling, Biochemistry, “Regulation of Ribosome Structural Dynamics by Antibiotics, Translation Factors and mRNA Secondary Structure.” 3 p.m., April 20, 2017. Whipple Auditorium (2-6424). Advisor: Dmitri Ermolenko.

Justin Komisarof, Biomedical Genetics, “Patterns in Dysregulated, Non-mutated Cancer Mediator Gene Expression.” 1 p.m., April 28, 2017. Ryan Case Method Room (1-9576). Advisor: Hartmut Land.

Mark your calendar

April 19: Feng Zhang, the first scientist to successfully adapt CRISPR-Cas9 for genome editing in eukaryotic cells, will give two talks at the Medical Center. “Exploration of CRISPR Diversity: from Microbiology to Biotechnology,” 1 to 3 p.m., Class of ’62 Auditorium (G-9425), Graduate Student NIH T32 Retreat in Cellular, Biochemical, and Molecular Sciences. “From the Beginning: How I Came to CRISPR,” 3:15 to 4:15 p.m., Class of ’62 Auditorium (G-9425), Graduate Women in Science seminar series.

April 20: Seminar on new NIH requirements that multi-site grant submissions with human subject research use a single Institutional Review Board (sIRB). Office for Human Subject Protection. Noon, Helen Wood Hall Auditorium.

April 24: One-day conference examining racial and ethnic disparities in health care and research, hosted by the Medical Center’s Office for Inclusion and Culture Development and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute. 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m., Flaum Atrium. Click here for the agenda and registration.

April 26: “Precision Medicine: Notre Dame’s Bold Initiative to Lead the 21st Century Revolution in Personalized Care.” Hesburgh Lecture, presented by Paul Bohn, professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering, University of Notre Dame. Sponsored by Notre Dame Club of Rochester and Department of Pharmacology and Physiology. 7 p.m., Adolph Auditorium, Medical Center.

May 1: Deadline to apply for Clinical and Translational Science Institute Population Health Research Postdoctoral Fellowship.

May 12: Technology & Rare Neurological Diseases Symposium, 7:30 a.m. to 3:45 p.m. Helen Wood Hall Auditorium. Center for Human Experimental Therapeutics. Patients, patient advocates, clinical research policy and regulatory experts, and researchers from academia, biotechnology, and pharmaceutical industries will brainstorm ways to apply novel mobile health technologies to rare neurological diseases. Register here; learn more on the TRNDS website.

May 15: Deadline for submitting applications for population health pilot projects supported by the Department of Public Health Science. Learn more…

May 22: Deadline to apply for pilots awards from the Center for AIDS Research, including awards of up to $50,000 each focusing on: HIV-associated cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease; stress, trauma, and vulnerable populations; and HIV cure (click here for RFA) and awards of up to $25,000 focusing the National Institutes of Health HIV/AIDS High Priority Research Topics (click here for RFA).

May 22: Deadline to apply for research awards from the Center for Emerging and Innovative Sciences to collaborate with New York state companies on projects in ophthalmic and vision science, fiber optic communications, biomedical imaging, geospatial imaging, precision optics, consumer imaging and displays. Click here to learn more.

May 30: Deadline to apply for awards of up to $10,000 from the Center for AIDS Research for collaborative clinical and translational pharmacology proposals involving UR and University at Buffalo faculty. Click here for RFA.

Please send suggestions and comments to Bob Marcotte. You can see back issues of Research Connections on the Newsletters website.

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Rochester Connections is a weekly e-newsletter all faculty, scientists, post docs and graduate students engaged in research at the University of Rochester. You are receiving this e-newsletter because you are a member of the Rochester community with an interest in research topics.