Irvine, Calif., September 9, 2002
Cars that communicate traffic conditions as they pass on the freeway, biochip sensors that can be swallowed to monitor a person's blood chemistry and new therapies to combat Alzheimer's disease are among the potential breakthroughs that UC Irvine faculty are researching due, in part, to a record amount of funding in 2001-02.
UCI faculty received more than $212 million in contracts and grants during the past academic year—setting a new record and increasing funding by $18 million over the previous year.
"As UCI grows, the depth and scope of the research activities are reflected in the quality of work by our faculty and students, and further our public recognition as a leader among the UC campuses and the nation's top-tier research universities," said Chancellor Ralph J. Cicerone.
Faculty members conducting research in medicine and biological sciences were awarded nearly half of the total funding by capitalizing on the increased availability of federal dollars, especially from the National Institutes of Health.
"UCI has a history of scientific innovation," said William Parker, vice chancellor for research and graduate studies. "As our faculty grows, so do the number of competitive proposals written by them. This increase in funding is a reflection of the quality and energy of the entire faculty."
Dr. Carl Cotman, director of UCI's Institute for Brain Aging and Dementia, and his colleagues were awarded two $1.3 million grants from the National Institute on Aging. One grant supports their work as an Alzheimer's Disease Research Center with projects ranging from the role of Vitamin E and hormones in preventing Alzheimer's disease to the preventive effects of exercise. The other grant funds ongoing research on the ability of nerve cells in the elderly to rebound from injury and the effects of cell injury on behavior.
"Alzheimer's disease affects more than four million Americans and that number will likely increase substantially. Our research centers on studying the mechanisms by which Alzheimer's is brought about in the brain, and on using this knowledge to find new ways to treat and prevent this disorder and other mental disorders associated with aging," Cotman said.
Biomedical devices the size of a thumbnail with the potential power to serve as a medical diagnostic "lab-on-a-chip" in the body are among the micro-technologies that G.P. Li, professor of electrical and computer engineering, is studying with $4.1 million in combined grants and corporate funding. Li is the director of UCI's Integrated Nanosystems Research Facility, where researchers are collaborating with faculty from the College of Medicine and Department of Biomedical Engineering to develop ultra-small components such as micro-optic, micro-fluidic and micro-electronic mechanical systems (MEMS) that will have a dramatic impact on industries such as health care and telecommunications.
"The same micro-technologies that we are developing here at the INRF for advanced communication systems, such as remote sensing devices embedded in bridges for monitoring damage after an earthquake, can also be applied to the biomedical industry for applications in mobile health monitoring, drug screening and three-dimensional DNA array detectors," Li said.
The creation of novel wireless products is of keen interest to a group of faculty working to create intelligent highways and vehicles. Will Recker, a civil engineering professor, obtained $3.8 million—the largest single grant this past year—to further research at UCI's Institute of Transportation Studies. Dubbed AUTONET, researchers are using a fleet of electric cars and wireless tracking devices to create a mobile laboratory for instant vehicle-to-vehicle communications that enable passing commuters to share traffic information.
"Congestion and traffic are not new issues in California," Recker said. "But with the increased funding we can push our research and test it out in the real world."
By developing a highway test bed in Orange County, researchers have been able to conduct advanced research in traffic management. Their efforts have already led to new approaches for signals and ramp meters that adapt to congestion and to changes in traffic patterns from electronic roadside message signs that inform drivers of delays and detours.
With more than 1,000 faculty members at UCI, this is just a sampling of those who received funding for their diverse work. Last year's record total included two dozen awards for $1 million or more of which nine were for other activities such as supporting minority education projects and improving delivery of medical services.
"For example, we received a $2.1 million award for the provision of anesthesiology services to the Long Beach VA hospital," Parker added.
UCI's contracts and grant funding has more than doubled in the past decade. It is anticipated that the expansion and addition of research centers, such as the California Institute for Telecommunications and Information Technology, will further increase opportunities.