October 13, 2011

Discoveries show value of federal support

An update on federally funded projects at Vanderbilt and their impact on efforts to improve education, protect people from disease and meet our nation’s energy needs.

Kane Jennings, professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at Vanderbilt University, has designed a newer, more efficient fuel cell that may bring hydrogen one step closer to becoming a major source of energy in the United States.

Daniel Kaplan & Irina Bruck Kaplan's research is shedding new light on the initial steps of DNA replication, the molecular process that makes life possible. (Daniel Dubois / Vanderbilt)

Survivors of the 1918 “Spanish flu” pandemic and elderly survivors of the 2009 outbreak of H1N1 “swine flu” shared similar protective antibodies. This discovery, by researchers at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, could lead to better vaccines with longer lasting immunity.

Children who attended state-funded pre-kindergarten classes in Tennessee gained an average of 82 percent more on early literacy and math skills than comparable children who did not attend, researchers from Vanderbilt’s Peabody Research Institute reported earlier this year.

What do these studies have in common? All were supported by federal research grants.

They are examples of the impact that federal funding can have on efforts to improve education, protect people from disease and meet our nation’s energy needs.

More examples of federally funded research at Vanderbilt can be found on the website of the Vanderbilt Office of Federal Relations.

For the past five years, Vanderbilt University has ranked among the top 25 universities in the country in the federal R&D funds it receives. The combined value of federal grants and contracts for research and related activities at Vanderbilt exceeded $600 million for the 2011 fiscal year, up more than 20 percent from the previous year.

The bulk of the FY2011 funding was awarded by the National Institutes of Health to support research in cancer, diabetes, heart disease and a host of other disorders in addition to infectious diseases. The university also receives significant support from the National Science Foundation, the departments of Defense, Education and Energy, NASA and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Educating the next generation of scientists is an important part of the research support that Vanderbilt receives. For example, the Vanderbilt-Fisk Interdisciplinary Program for Research and Education in the Nanosciences, supported by the National Science Foundation, is helping to train graduate students in nanoscale science and engineering at Vanderbilt and historically black Fisk University.

Finally, federal support of research has a profound economic impact. According to Jeff Balser, Vanderbilt’s vice chancellor for Health Affairs, this “funding has, and continues to create excellent new jobs, and at the same time is advancing scientific knowledge in fundamentally important ways that will translate into better health for our patients, and for people everywhere.”