The University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB) and the University of Maryland, College Park (UMCP) launched the eighth year of their joint Research and Innovation Seed Grant program at the University of Maryland BioPark on Oct. 14.

The program, part of the University of Maryland: MPowering the State initiative, is intended to foster collaboration between disciplines and between the universities. It focuses upon projects in areas such as personalized medicine, bioinformatics, bioengineering, complex therapeutics, health care optimization, public health informatics, health information technology, and health science research.

The day began with previous awardees presenting the results of their research projects. At a late afternoon reception, leadership including Bruce Jarrell, MD, FACS, chief academic and research officer and senior vice president at UMB and dean of the Graduate School, E. Albert Reece, MD, PhD, MBA, dean of the University of Maryland School of Medicine (SOM) and UMB’s vice president of medical affairs, Wallace D. Loh, PhD, JD , president of UMCP, Mary Ann Rankin, PhD, senior vice president and provost at UMCP, and Patrick O’Shea, PhD, vice president and chief research officer at UMCP, gathered in the BioPark to announce the 2015 grants and commemorate the first eight years of the innovative program.

(l-r) Bruce Jarrell, Wallace Loh, E. Albert Reece, Mary Ann Rankin, Patrick O'Shea

(l-r) Bruce Jarrell, Wallace Loh, E. Albert Reece, Mary Ann Rankin, Patrick O’Shea

Jarrell and Reece were part of the team that conceived of the program almost a decade ago as they looked for ways to link the two thriving campuses in ways that benefited both institutions and the University System of Maryland  as a whole.

“This started a long time ago with a bunch of us in a back room,” Jarrell said as he addressed the crowd. “It’s very exciting to be here now, in our eighth year.”

The program was quite innovative for its time, long before the MPowering the State program created official and extensive ties between the two campuses, said Loh.

“This program has encouraged faculty and research from each institution to come together and collaborate,” Loh said. “It laid the foundation for MPower today.”

The program truly benefits both universities, said Rankin. “Each side gets the opportunity to see the other and expand their vision and experience in new ways,” she said.

“These seed grants are critically important to us,” O’Shea said.

The program has given 59 awards to 132 research scientists since its founding in 2008, Reece said. Its return-on-investment is $11.5 million so far. “We consider this to be a good net,” Reece said, “but our vision is to do even better.”

The seed grant initiative aims to expand and improve in part through a new type of grant called a Challenge Grant, offering two years of funding to senior investigators to help them gather initial data that will help them to compete for National Institutes of Health funding or other types of grants in the future, Reece said.

This year’s Seed Grant awardees  are:

  • Lisa Shulman, MD, professor of neurology and director of the University of Maryland Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Center at the School of Medicine; and Amitabh Varshney, PhD, professor of computer science and director of the University of Maryland Institute for Advanced Computer Studies at UMCP, and their project “Use of Visualization Assisted Clustering to Detect Diverse Patterns of Disease Progression in Parkinson’s Disease.”
  • John Basile, DDS, DMSc, assistant professor of oncology and diagnostic sciences at the University of Maryland School of Dentistry; and Elisabeth Smela, PhD, professor of mechanical engineering at UMCP, and their project “Development of an Implantable Device to Determine Cancer Cell Response to Chemotherapy in Real Time.”

The Challenge Grant recipients  are:

  • Feng Jiang, MD, PhD, professor of pathology at the SOM; and Jiuzhou “John” Song, PhD, associate professor of animal and avian sciences at UMCP, and their project “A Non-Invasive & Cost-Effective Approach for Lung Cancer Screening.”
  • Stuart Martin, PhD, associate professor of physiology; and Wolfgang Losert, PhD, professor of physics at UMCP, and their project “Nanotopographic Diagnostic Panel for Breast Cancer Metastasis.”

Reece said the results of these interprofessional collaborations will prove that combining expertise from multiple disciplines helps each investigator improve and enhance their own work.

In these projects, “two plus two is going to equal more than four,” he said.