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February 2021 GRA Notes from the Georgia Research Alliance
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GRA marks 30th year with rollout of metrics showing impact on GA


The State of Georgia’s investment in GRA has generated a strong return across three decades, according to new metrics released by the Alliance in February. To mark its 30th anniversary year, which wraps up in June, GRA showed a return of $12 for every $1 the state invested since the Alliance was formed in 1990 — a total of $7.8 billion on Georgia’s $661 million investment. The vast majority of that return ($5.8 billion) came in the form of public and private research grants to GRA Eminent Scholars, world-class scientists recruited to Georgia’s universities. GRA’s origins trace back to Georgia business leaders meeting with then-Gov. Zell Miller (above) to ignite a new model for economic development in Georgia. “Today, GRA illustrates the benefit that can be created when government, academia and industry work together with a shared focus,” says GRA Chair David Ratcliffe. “But its past success is only a starting point. GRA’s future potential to drive investment and bolster Georgia’s reputation is enormous.” • [ SEE VIDEO BELOW ]
Numbers across the decades: A few 30-year metrics from GRA

UGA names research chair after Sen. Isakson

Former U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson is being honored with a new GRA Eminent Scholar chair at the University of Georgia, a research position that will deepen exploration into Parkinson’s Disease. UGA completed fundraising for the endowed chair in February, securing $4.5 million in private gifts — with Sen. Isakson himself being the final contributor to the campaign. “We are deeply honored that Senator Isakson has made this commitment to the university. His decades of service to our state and nation and his support of UGA and higher education inspired this entire effort,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead. “We also are very grateful for the generous gifts from additional individuals and organizations that are supporting this endowed position.” The Eminent Scholar recruited for the chair will also head UGA’s new Center for Brain Science and Neurological Disorders. • Read a release about the Isakson chair >

Augusta U. Scholar IDs new target for depression

A new potential target to treat depression has been uncovered by a team that includes GRA Eminent Scholar Xin-Yun Lu of Augusta University. The target is a small group of neurons, known as AgRP neurons, that change in function because of chronic, unpredictable stress. That functional change could contribute to depression, Lu and colleagues found — a likely indicator that the neurons are a worthy focus for developing new treatments. Interestingly, the same group of neurons is known to be important to appetite: They prompt the body to eat when hungry. Lu is corresponding author of the study, which was published in the journal Molecular Psychiatry and widely covered in the news media. She works in the Medical College of Georgia at Augusta U. • Read about the research >

Ga. Tech Scholars honored for achievements

The early weeks of 2021 have brought news of high honors for three GRA Eminent Scholars at Georgia Tech. Russell Dupuis was named one of five winners of the esteemed Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, which celebrates groundbreaking discoveries in the field. He and fellow honorees all made seminal contributions to solid-state lighting, which changed how the world is illuminated. David Sholl was selected as a Fellow for the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the world’s largest scientific society. The lifetime appointment honors Sholl for his work “connecting atomic-scale modeling with practical applications” in the field of energy. And Rao Tummala learned that IEEE, the Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers, is naming its technical award for electronics packaging after him. IEEE’s technical awards are among the highest bestowed by the institute. • Dupuis award >Sholl appointment >Tummala honor >

Emory is tops in NIH-funded pediatric research

No other university received more NIH grant funding for pediatrics research last year than Emory University, according to a new rankings study. More than $97 million in NIH funding to Emory's pediatrics department fueled exploration of cures and treatments for asthma, autism, cancer and a number of other disorders in FY2020. NIH grants also supported a range of projects related to COVID-19 — most notably, a joint effort involving Emory, Georgia Tech and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to speed development of new kinds of COVID-19 diagnostics. "This ranking is a testament to the power of collaboration,” says Dr. Jonathan Lewin, Emory’s executive VP for health affairs and head of Woodruff Health Sciences Center. GRA has made key investments in the university’s pediatrics research infrastructure. • More on the ranking >

GRA Venture Fund invests in Diasyst

A young company with technology that helps healthcare providers care for chronically ill patients is the newest addition to the portfolio of GRA Venture Fund. This month, the Fund announced its investment in Diasyst, which launched out of Emory in 2015. With its flagship platform technology, Diasyst makes it easier for doctors and their staff to track and manage patients with diabetes. Patients use the Diasyst app to enter in their blood sugar levels; the data is automatically sent to their healthcare team, allowing doctors to adjust medications more precisely and reducing trips to a doctor's office. Half of all adult Georgians have either diabetes or pre-diabetes, and the lessening of doctor visits is especially welcome in rural areas of the state, where patients often travel long distances to see a physician. GRA’s venture development program has also invested in Diasyst. • Check out a short feature on Diasyst >

MSM, Emory make headway in COVID-19 fight

Which resources can help families navigate the perils of the COVID-19 pandemic? Can the SARS-CoV-2 virus be detected indoors? These two challenging questions are the focus of new projects undertaken by GRA member universities Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM) and Emory University. This month, MSM launched its National COVID-19 Resiliency Network, a website that helps people find vaccine locations, testing sites — and answers to a lot of questions they have about the pandemic. The site is part of a $40 million HHS grant awarded to MSM last year to help educate communities on the pandemic. At Emory, scientists are developing a sensor that can determine whether the coronavirus is present in the air of indoor spaces. NIH awarded the project an $883,000 grant. Khalid Salaita, principal investigator of the project, says the sensor could potentially be re-programmed to detect other dangerous strains of viruses. • Visit the national site MSM created >Learn more about Emory’s high-tech detection >

Maker of ‘SewBots’ reports $18M investment

The Atlanta Business Chronicle this month covered the $18.1 million Series B round of investment in Softwear Automation, launched out of Georgia Tech in 2012. The company’s platform automates textile manufacturing — its “SewBots” rival humans for competence and precision in aligning fabrics and sewing a straight seam. GRA’s venture development program was an early investor in Softwear Automation. Four investors participated in the round, which was led by Lear Corporation. • Read the news report (note: potential paywall) >

Young and bright... and working in a lab

If you haven’t done so already — take a minute and check out what four university students in Georgia have to say about life in a college lab. In “Xplorers,” a series of (very) short videos, the students address such questions as “What would surprise someone about working in a lab?” and “What are some obstacles you’ve had to overcome?” GRA is getting set to roll out the series to Georgia students ranging from middle school to undergraduate on campus. You can help with that rollout by clicking on the red “Subscribe” button on the YouTube channel. When we reach 100 subscribers, we can create a customized link to promote the series. • Please subscribe now (and catch a 3-minute episode or two) >

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