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Mason: Federal stimulus money has aided UI research

BY SALLY MASON - GUEST OPINION | FEBRUARY 17, 2010 7:30 AM

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Today marks the one-year anniversary of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The act ushered in a new era of research across the nation that will lead us to unprecedented scientific progress. Not since the post-Sputnik era of the 1950s and 1960s have we witnessed such investment in the intellect, drive, and promise of American scientists.

The University of Iowa has received more than $53 million in funding awards and commitments to span a three-year period. These resources are helping us assemble teams that are addressing such pressing national concerns as the prevention and treatment of human diseases and the remediation of environmental damage. This surge in research productivity is creating hundreds of high-quality Iowa-based jobs that are critical to the state’s short-term economic recovery, and it is helping train the next generation of scientists, who will be vital to the state and nation’s long-term prosperity.

Let me share with you just a few examples from the 136 initiatives that are under way thanks to the recovery act’s investment.

• Jane Paulsen, in our Department of Psychiatry, and her team are researching the neurobiological predictors of Huntington’s disease, which as yet has no cure. Researchers have been able to identify the genetic markers of Huntington’s, which is hereditary, and thus inform patients of their condition long before symptoms set in. But until now, that knowledge has never been analyzed in detail and compared across a large number of patients to help identify target moments within the disease process for treatment development. Thanks to the act’s funds, the Paulsen team is continuing PREDICT-HD, a first-of-its kind, international, 30-site study that is helping scientists understand the biological processes that take place in Huntington’s disease well before symptom onset.

• George Malanson, in our Department of Geography, is leading research on the ecological consequences of an exotic fungal pathogen that causes blister rust, which kills or damages white pine trees, a species critical to ecosystem stability. White pines in many areas are declining rapidly because of blister rust, which negatively affects the function of ecosystems.

• Peter Damiano, the director of the UI Public Policy Center and a professor of dentistry, heads a team examining the disparities in needs, costs, and behavior that influence when children have their first preventive dental visit. Racial, social, economic, and other factors are being assessed with a goal of designing an intervention with parents and providers to be certain that children begin preventive dental visits at the most optimal time.

Our faculty and staff at the UI are passionate about the pursuit of knowledge, as well as providing needed services to Iowans. The act’s funding has helped us fulfill our mission of making life better for the citizens of our state and people across the nation and world during these very difficult economic times. This funding also is supporting the jobs, equipment, goods, and services necessary to conduct research, benefiting the immediate economy. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act places us on the road to solid economic recovery, and it builds the foundation for unparalleled learning and discovery for years to come at the University of Iowa.

Sally Mason is the president of the UI.


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