Virginia Gov. Mark Warner announced plans Wednesday for state investment of up to $255 million in several university based research initiatives. Including the required institutional matching funds, the program could boost overall research and development funding at Virginia colleges and universities by $554 million.

“We are very pleased to see this commitment to research. The governor has stepped up to the plate realizing that it takes large investments to really make a difference,” said President Charles Steger. If approved by the General Assembly, this will be the largest single investment in academic research in state history. Some of the proposals were based on work of the Steering Committee on Research Capabilities and Centers of Excellence for the Governor’s Higher Education Summit in May, 2003. Steger chaired the steering committee.

"This is a historic investment in Virginia's future, one that can help save lives and generate economic growth," said Gov. Warner. "Our state dollars will leverage federal and private funds to help attract the best and brightest scientists and students to our universities. Several of our universities have started to recruit world class researchers to Virginia. This funding will further our advances in biomedical research and help lead to potential breakthroughs in treating cancer, Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, and other serious diseases."

Gov. Warner noted in his comments that Virginia lags behind the neighboring states of Maryland and North Carolina in academic research and said, “What better place to make an investment than in research and development based around our colleges and universities across the commonwealth? There we find tomorrow’s products and cures.”

The investments of “one-time” monies will fund $67 million in faculty recruitment and startup costs, $68 million for new research facilities directed to specific schools, $27 million for equipment, $10 million for competitive research and commercialization grants, and a $50 million pool of funds for research facilities. Additionally, the governor proposes $34 million in ongoing support ($23 million after current biennium) for research and instructional programs and for graduate support.

“This is essential initiative support funding because these are one-time appropriations and require matching dollars from the university in most instances. We plan to make strategic investments that will help the faculty to be exceptionally successful,” said Brad Fenwick, vice president for research.

The proposal would fund construction of a critical technology building (ICTAS II) and an Infectious Disease Laboratory at Virginia Tech. The university would fund portions of the capital costs.

Other Virginia Tech funding would be directed to advanced biomaterials engineering such as developing advanced materials for drug delivery, advanced diagnosis, and injury/disease treatment using nanotechnology methods. The School of Biomedical Engineering and Sciences will be enhanced by the initiative.

Biomaterials research already underway at Virginia Tech include materials for the repair of bone defects, combining DNA and polymers to create adhesives that will speed the healing process, and wound dressings that will seal a wound then release when signaled -- without pain or damage to tissue.

In the area of drug delivery, Virginia Tech researchers are creating polymers that bind to DNA to escort the therapeutic DNA across cell membranes (gene delivery) and man-made molecules to deliver medicine to cancer cells when activated by light. Virtually everyone is looking forward to virtual colonoscopies. That diagnostic tool is being developed at Virginia Tech, along with image-guided polypectomy technology, and advancements in the detection and treatment of colon cancer by doing the initial screening with imaging instead of endoscopy.

Medical applications of nanotechnology being developed at Virginia Tech include using silver nanoparticles to kill E. coli bacteria, laser spectroscopy to detect cancer in blood samples, and optical biosensors to detect traces of the bacteria and viruses that cause such diseases as tularemia, anthrax, and plague.

A news release issued by the governor’s office stated, “The funding will increase the research capacity of Virginia's higher educational institutions by providing startup capital for research laboratories, recruiting top researchers and graduate students to Virginia universities, creating state-of-the-art research facilities, and funding cutting-edge research equipment. Most of the funding will be one-time.”

The full statement is available here.

Further details will be released Dec. 16 when the governor details his budget recommendations for fiscal year 2007.

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