The Board of Visitors on Friday approved new research-related investments from the University of Virginia’s Strategic Investment Fund, including $17 million toward a cross-disciplinary effort to end childhood diabetes, led by the School of Medicine.
The board also approved four other project proposals, bringing the total of this round of investment funding to approximately $29 million.
A School of Medicine team of doctors and faculty members has been leading the way in research related to detecting, controlling and eventually curing Type 1 diabetes. Research partners include UVA’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, the Data Science Institute, and an international research network based at UVA known as the Center for Diabetes Technology.
Dr. Richard Shannon, executive vice president for health affairs at the UVA Health System, said the diabetes-related investment will allow medical researchers to focus as never before on finding a cure for the disease.
“We’ve made tremendous progress in diabetes-related research, raising the capabilities of the University of Virginia and putting us in a stronger position to provide screening, treatment and hope to those who suffer from the disease,” Shannon said. “This gives us an opportunity to accelerate and expand our efforts.”
Team members have identified common genetic variants that predispose individuals to the disease, and they even invented an artificial pancreas that helps patients control and manage it. This initiative begins with genetic screening and early detection, uses the artificial pancreas to optimally control the disease, and aspires to a cure.
“The investment will allow us to develop further our artificial pancreas studies, create a statewide genomics screening program to identify children at risk of developing Type 1 diabetes and advance our existing work on human beta cell regeneration,” Shannon said.
In individuals with Type 1 diabetes, beta cells – which are found in the pancreas and are responsible for producing insulin – get destroyed. If regeneration of beta cells were possible, though, the body’s own ability to make insulin could be restored.
Project success would make the University the global leader in Type 1 diabetes and would position UVA to undertake future research in related areas involving genomics, data science and immune therapy.
Other projects receiving funding approval on Friday include:
- School of Engineering and Applied Science graduate program, $6.4 million: For the purpose of increasing financial support for 100 new and highly diverse engineering graduate students, enabling faculty to secure more external research and funding and increase the body of work that is highly cited.
- College of Arts & Sciences Advanced Research and New Forms of Creative Learning, $2 million: To create new knowledge, provide innovative training opportunities in cross-disciplinary research and engage the public on focused areas in the social sciences and humanities.
- School of Engineering and Applied Science Center for Advanced Biomanufacturing, $3 million: For infrastructure that will support the development of novel and more effective tissue engineering and regenerative medicine technologies.
- College of Arts & Sciences Neuroscience and Energy Research Initiatives, $521,844: For infrastructure that will support neuroscience and energy research.
- In its initial round of investments in September, the board approved 13 proposals with a total investment of $26 million.
The purpose of the Strategic Investment Fund, authorized by the board in February, is to provide transformational investments in the quality of a UVA education without relying on tuition or tax dollars. Investments could reach as much as $100 million annually. Areas of emphasis include research, academic experience, access and affordability, and economic development.
Learn more about the Strategic Investment Fund here.