WARF announces latest projects for UW2020: Discovery Initiative

The Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation has announced its latest group of projects for the UW2020: WARF Discovery Initiative, which funnels millions of dollars into research.

Out of the 21 projects receiving money from WARF, eight are infrastructure-related, while 13 are research projects. Of those 13, six are directly related to understanding, treating or preventing human sickness.

Over 137 faculty from 10 schools and colleges on the UW-Madison campus are represented in these projects, which are funded for two years with an average award of $372,923. This most recent round bring the total number of awardees to 49 since the initiative began last year.

“These awards position our faculty to be even more successful as they apply for extramural funding in an increasingly competitive environment,” said Marsha Mailick, UW-Madison vice chancellor for research and graduate education.

One project will delve into the mysteries of the microbiome by looking at communities of tiny microorganisms that exists on, and inside of, the human body. These microbes affect metabolism and health, and play a major role in disease.

As well as looking at data from ongoing long term cohort studies, this project will study the microbiomes of people with autism or neurodegenerative diseases to explore correlations between these conditions and microbiome activity. Researchers from the Waisman Center and the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center will play a role in this project.

Another project aims to create a machine learning method for speeding up the discovery of new drug-like compounds that can be studied further to determine possible worth in treatment. This would increase the pace of innovation while sharply bringing down the cost of screening these compounds.

A third project will leverage CRISPR/Cas9 gene-editing technology to snip certain parts of the DNA strand that contribute to age-related diseases. This will allow researchers to “cut and silence” certain proteins related to Alzheimer’s, hopefully blocking progression of symptoms.

“Innovative ideas like those proposed for UW2020 are critical to maintaining UW–Madison’s world-class research standing, and we are extremely grateful for WARF’s continuing support for this initiative,” Mailick said.

Along with the groundbreaking research being pursued through this initiative, several infrastructure projects could make it easier to learn more about diseases.

One such project funds the acquisition of a new solid-state nuclear magnetic resonance instrument, which would broaden UW researchers’ capacity to scan tiny samples of matter.

This instrument would benefit research in the areas of nanoparticles, inorganic chemistry and biochemical systems — all of which could have impacts in medical diagnostics, as well as in the treatment of cancer and other diseases, according to WARF.

Another infrastructure project aims to develop a core resource for all the laboratories on campus working with nano- or micro-fabrication of certain types of tissue models. These materials, known as extracellular matrices — or ECM — are gaining importance in the fields of cancer treatment and regenerative medicine.

A total of 119 projects were submitted in hopes of gaining funding; 104 UW-Madison faculty then reviewed them and passed them onto the 16-person UW2020 Council to be ranked. The Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research and Graduate Education Leadership made the final determinations.

The Graduate School is providing support for research assistants playing a role in these projects. UW-Extension and the Morgridge Institute for Research are pitching in as well.

–By Alex Moe