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American Recovery and Reinvestment Act: 100 Projects, $30 Million to Penn Research
September 8, 2009, Volume 56, No. 02

The University of Pennsylvania has received more than $30 million in research funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), awards that fund more than 100 studies in gene therapy, robotics, public education, neurological disorders, tobacco’s effect on health and more.

Penn faculty have submitted approximately 850 grant applications and more than $550 million in requested funding to institutions like the National Institutes of Health and National Science Foundation, with the bulk of research awards yet to be announced.

“The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act has empowered the University’s stellar research community to continue groundbreaking studies in medicine, engineering and the natural sciences that will positively impact the nation’s economy, as well as empower faculty to make advances in the health and well being of people around the globe,” Dr. Steven J. Fluharty, vice provost for research, said.

Examples from Penn’s first round of stimulus-funded research include:

• Dr. Katherine Schultz, an assistant professor in Penn’s Graduate School of Education, was awarded $1.4 million by the National Science Foundation to prepare teachers for the challenges and opportunities of urban public schools. Dr. Schultz, who specializes in literacy and builds teaching programs based on understanding children and the communities they come from, will use the grant to seek and attract talented, committed individuals with backgrounds in subjects where strong teachers are needed most: science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

• Dr. Kelly Jordan-Sciutto, a pathologist with Penn’s School of Dental Medicine, was awarded more than $500,000 by the National Institute of Mental Health to continue her research into the faulty molecular mechanisms of the brain that lead to neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease.

• Dr. Ian Blair of the Penn School of Medicine and the Center of Excellence in Environmental Toxicology will continue to study exposure to tobacco smoke and the 3,800 chemical components that make it a leading cause of death in America, using a National Cancer Institute stimulus grant of $1.3 million that extends his research. Associated with cardiovascular disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and pancreatic disease, tobacco smoke is likely responsible for more deaths than any other environmental exposure. Dr. Blair and his colleagues look at genetic susceptibility to lung cancer and biomarkers of exposure to cigarette smoke, seeking to determine those most at risk for disease.

• Dr. Katherine Kuchenbecher, recipient of a 2008 NSF Career Award, has received $500,000 to continue her research into haptography, the science of capturing and recreating the feel of real surfaces. Not only does the field appeal to young scientists and encourage engineering careers, but the applications are widespread and include robot-assisted surgery, medical training and simulation, interactive museum exhibits, online shopping and stroke rehabilitation.

ARRA has delivered the largest increase in basic funding in the history of federally funded scientific research: $21.5 billion. The additional support, slated for research and development, includes $3.5 billion for facilities and capital equipment. Since funding efforts began almost six months ago, federal science agencies tasked with distributing that money have provided a surge in funding and tens of thousands of grant opportunities to researchers at American universities. University research programs, unaccustomed to such an immediate increase in funding, have met the demand for greater tracking of resources and improved reporting to maximize the benefit of the stimulus funding, pointing resources to research with the greatest impact on human health and economic recovery.

“The University of Pennsylvania is a world-class research university and health-care system and the fifth largest employer in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, and the stimulus funding Penn receives makes a significant, positive contribution to the regional economy,” Bill Andresen, associate vice president of federal affairs at Penn, said.

Penn supports one of the world’s leading research communities with more than $750 million in total research awards and had 332 invention disclosures in 2008. Penn is the region’s largest private employer, a vital component of the local economy and the nation’s second largest recipient of NIH funding.

University faculty perform basic research across the spectrum of 12 schools including the School of Medicine; the School of Veterinary Medicine, which is a regional governmental partner in food safety and public health; and the schools of Arts and Sciences and Engineering and Applied Science, which focus on achieving scientific advances with practical applications to improve health, the nation’s infrastructure, technology and education.

It is through the foundation of basic science, entrusted to the nation’s research institutions, that the country will improve its energy efficiency, reduce its dependence on foreign oil, deploy 21st-century technologies and help bring down the cost of health care—all essential to America’s long-term economic well being.


Almanac - September 8, 2009, Volume 56, No. 02