By Lisa Howard
The University of California, Davis, is investing $4 million over three years to launch four new research centers that align campus strengths with unique opportunities for global impact. The UC Davis Office of Research initiative is designed to promote new, sustainable, inter- and multidisciplinary research activity that responds to society’s greatest challenges and needs.
“Multi- and interdisciplinary research enables breakthroughs in resolving some of the world’s most intractable problems and opens up entirely new and exciting research fields,” said Prasant Mohapatra, vice chancellor for research at UC Davis. “By building on synergies between individuals and organizations, the IMPACT Program will harness the power of complementary knowledge and capabilities to accelerate and amplify impact from research.”
Four centers were selected from a pool of 64 applicants following a peer review process by a panel of experts consisting of faculty from UC Davis and other institutions. The panel evaluated projects using multiple criteria, including scientific merit, plans for self-sustainability and potential for impact.
Data Science Center
Center leader: Thomas Strohmer, professor, Department of Mathematics
Data science and related fields such as artificial intelligence are changing the way that many scientists do research and are leading to astounding advancements in a broad range of applications — from science and humanities to medicine and technology. The UC Davis Data Science Center will facilitate breakthroughs in research and innovation to address societal challenges by advancing data science foundations, methods and applications in a concerted effort. Initial areas of focus will consist of: improving the health of individuals and the health care system through data-driven methods and understanding of health processes; using quantitative biology to improve agriculture; combating climate change and environmental damage via sustainable resource management; and understanding the origins of the universe. The center will foster collaborations through focused workshops, seminars and innovation labs as well as by serving as a point of contact for industry partners and government agencies.
Gene Therapy Center
Center leader: Jan Nolta, professor, Department of Cell Biology and Anatomy
The UC Davis Gene Therapy Center will create a center of excellence to target genetic diseases through multidisciplinary research, education and manufacturing. The field of gene therapy is changing the face of health care, offering the potential to provide cures that extend a lifetime as opposed to the costly ongoing treatment of symptoms. The center brings together a growing network of expertise and equipment at UC Davis, including a dedicated Good Manufacturing Practice Facility. By leveraging these resources and investing in strategic opportunities, the center will help usher new therapies through the complex FDA approval pipeline for clinical trials by providing consultation, in vitro and in vivo study models, equipment, manufacturing, regulatory expertise, patent and licensing resources, and an on-site specialized cellular and gene therapy clinical trials operation.
Global Migration Center
Center leader: Giovanni Peri, professor, Department of Economics
Global migration is one of the most important and pervasive societal issues of the 21st century, yet there is limited knowledge of the phenomenon in a holistic and global frame. The Global Migration Center will be a focal point for interdisciplinary and multimethodological research focused on migrants. A key asset of the center will be its multidisciplinary approach to understanding the new challenges of global migration that affect climate migrants, refugees, and vulnerable and at-risk migrants, and developing research-based action. The center will be a critical hub for the translation of research into policy advice, action and support of immigrant communities. The new center will bring together current research from existing interdisciplinary programs at UC Davis, including the Migration Research Cluster, which Peri directs, Comparative Border Studies and “Humanizando la Deportacion.”
Perinatal Origins of Disparities Center
Center leaders: Leigh Ann Simmons, professor and chair of the Department of Human Ecology; Janine LaSalle, professor, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and associate director of the Genome Center
Despite all of the incredible advances in health care technology over recent years, health outcomes in the United States are often more dependent on zip code than DNA code. The Perinatal Origins of Disparities (POD) Center will investigate why and how some groups of people are more likely to be sicker than others, and then develop ways to prevent those disparities when they often begin — pre-conception to infancy. Since the challenge of preventing health disparities will never be addressed through a single approach, the POD Center brings faculty together from a wide range of fields: genome sciences, human development, epidemiology, biomedical engineering, social welfare policy and health economics. This multidisciplinary group will examine biological, social, behavioral and community-level data simultaneously to develop, test and share prevention strategies and tools.
Through the IMPACT (Inter & Multidisciplinary Program to Accelerate Convergence & Translation) research centers, UC Davis will enhance its intellectual strengths in multidisciplinary areas and the collaborative research culture to establish itself as a leader in these emerging areas. The outcome of the research will have a significant social impact locally and globally while enhancing the quality of planetary health. The selected teams will be classified as Special Research Programs for up to three years, with the potential to be named IMPACT centers by the end of the third year by demonstrating strong research progress, meeting strategic milestones and achieving success in securing extramural funding.
A launch event is being planned for late October that will include presentations by the center leaders as well as time for networking. This will be a great opportunity to learn about the vision of the centers and to establish collaborations. If you are interested in attending, please register here.