First published in Around the O on December 10, 2020.
In August 2019, a team of UO researchers in the Prevention Science Institute received a $10.1 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to study opioid use among women.
The award, which supports an interdisciplinary collaboration with researchers at Oregon Health & Science University to better understand and develop interventions for mothers who have a history of opioid use, was one of 437 grants received by UO investigators during the 2020 fiscal year. It represented one of many successes in a year in which UO researchers brought in a record $152.4 million in grants, contracts and competitive awards.
“Our faculty, students and staff continued to conduct groundbreaking research and engage in vital scholarship and creative activity in 2020,” said Cassandra Moseley, interim vice president for research and innovation. “FY 2020 was an incredibly difficult year for researchers. Despite disruption from COVID-19, researchers continued to write proposals and submit them in record numbers.”
UO researchers eclipsed the previous year’s mark of $126 million in total awards by more than $26 million, a 20.9 percent increase. The $152.4 million award total for 2019-20 is the UO’s highest-ever total recorded, nearly $17 million more than the previous high of $135.6 million in awards received in the 2010 fiscal year.
The overall tally was even higher at $168.5 million, but that included $16 million in federal CARES Act funding for hardship due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The UO had three research awards with a total commitment of more than $5 million in the 2020 fiscal year, marking a continued emphasis on the pursuit of large-scale research grants. The numbers, which cover the 2020 fiscal year starting July 1, 2019, and ending June 30, were released in the 2020 sponsored projects services report published by the UO’s Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation.
The continued uptick in research and innovation metrics was partly due to increases in hiring of faculty members across many different departments and colleges along with the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact. All told, UO investigators submitted 1,266 proposals during the 2020 fiscal year, an increase of 207 from the previous year.
Examples of new 2020 awards spanning the UO’s many departments and institutes included:
- A $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to College of Education research assistant professor Fatima Terrazas Arellanes, for the development of a web-based science curriculum for elementary school students
- Four prestigious grants totaling $339,000 to researchers in the UO’s Department of Religious Studies to pursue research projects examining issues ranging from the religious influence of the Dead Sea Scrolls to the origins of Islamic scripture.
- A $1.3 million grant to College of Education research associate professor Joe Nese from the Institute of Education Sciences to improve the reliability and validity of reading fluency assessments.
- Three grants from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, including a $1.1 million award to biology professor Kelly Sutherland to study the swimming mechanism of gelatinous marine organisms, a $2 million grant to developmental neurobiologist Judith Eisen to probe the relationship between symbiotic bacteria and neural development and a $325,000 grant to a team led by biophysicist Raghuveer Parthasarathy to study zebrafish in controlled ecosystems in an examination of aquatic symbioses
- A $151,000 grant to UO associate professor of multimedia journalism Ed Madison from the National Science Foundation to examine how to enhance science motivation in high school students during a public health crisis, an extension of a $1.2 million, three-year grant to pursue a creative, interdisciplinary solution to the student achievement gap for underrepresented groups in STEM courses.
- A $50,000 grant to UO historian Julie Weise from the Whiting Foundation to develop a five-part YouTube series exploring the stories of Latinx people in the southern U.S.
- A $200,000 award to UO chemist Victoria DeRose from the National Science Foundation to enable 3D modeling of coronavirus RNA structures to provide potential leads for the development of therapeutic interventions against the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Two Maximizing Investigators’ Research Awards from the National Institutes of Health, one for $1.8 million to Provost and Senior Vice President Patrick Phillips and one for $2.9 million to UO biochemist Brad Nolen
For a rundown of all of the awards received in the past year, visit the UO’s monthly award reports page.
UO’s innovation metrics also rose during the 2020 fiscal year, according to the UO’s Innovation Partnership Services unit, which works with UO researchers, the public and industry to accelerate the adoption of products derived from UO research and education.
Chuck Williams, director of the unit and the UO’s associate vice president for innovation, said UO researchers continued to translate new ideas into products and services, with increases in licensing revenue, patenting, trademarking and inventions from the natural sciences.
UO innovation metrics from the past year included:
- Science-based invention disclosures jumped from 20 to 23.
- Patent filings increased from 13 to 20.
- The UO continued to be ranked No. 5 in the Association of American Universities in licensing per research dollar.
- The UO received a record $10.3 million in licensing income, an increase of 3 percent from the previous year.
The UO spun out four companies founded by UO faculty in the 2020 fiscal year, including Perceptivo, a firm launched under UO’s new V Formation program by biology professor Terry Takahashi and research associate Avinash Bala that benefitted from the university’s Innovation Fund. The fund provides translational research grant funding to enhance the probability that research discoveries will be transformed into new products, services and companies that contribute to the Oregon economy and is supported by the UO’s University Venture Development Fund.
The V Formation program actually launches the company and helped Perceptivo win an NIH SBIR award as well as a Murdock commercialization initiation grant. The UO’s roster of spinout companies also included three firms, Restor3d, OptiDicer and Penderia Technologies Inc., founded by faculty members in the Phil and Penny Knight Campus for Accelerating Scientific Impact.
Knight Campus professor Keat Ghee Ong and Robert Guldberg, vice president and Robert and Leona DeArmond Executive Director of the Knight Campus, co-founded Penderia to develop orthopedic sensors based on Ong’s research involving radio frequency identification technology.
The sensors can be used by doctors to monitor the progress of bone regeneration in patients who have had shoulder surgeries, leading to faster and smoother recoveries. Ong and Penderia received an Innovation Fund award of $75,000 to launch the program.
Williams credited the Knight Campus and a continued collaborative spirit with helping to put additional wind in the sails of UO’s growing innovation portfolio. UO’s Innovation Partnership Services unit helped fund the launch of both Restor3d and Penderia.
“This was the year the impact of entrepreneurial faculty joining the Knight Campus could really be felt on the ground,” Williams said. “Moving forward, we expect to see additional growth in innovation activity and we look forward to working across the board with faculty, students, industry and other partners to translate new research discoveries into the beneficial tools and technologies of tomorrow.”
—By Lewis Taylor, University Communications