Lindsey West, Contributing Writer
The university announced a record amount of research funds collected, totaling about $363 million for the 2021 fiscal year. Nearly all VCU departments received an increase in research budget, according to P. Srirama Rao, VCU’s vice president for research and innovation.
VCU departments that received funding include business, social work, nursing, the college of health professions, dentistry, pharmacy, engineering, the college of humanities and sciences, arts, medicine, and government and public affairs. Medicine received the most funding with over $183 million.
Various VCU schools and departments received the research grants for their proposed research ideas on July 1, the start of the fiscal year, Rao said.
According to Rao, who has no relation to VCU President Michael Rao, the money came from national funding, state funding and funding from industry or foundations gifts. For example, the Massey Cancer Center received national funding from the National Cancer Institute.
“They [researchers] compete on the national scene and they receive this funding,” Rao said. “So for instance, if you are a faculty in mass communication and you wrote a grant and you got funded this time around from a national agency, the funding would flow to your college or school.”
The university’s research funding totals $362,906,366. VCU ranks highly in research funding in comparison to other public research universities, Rao said.
According to the National Science Foundation, VCU ranks No. 64 for Higher Education Research and Development expenditures for public institutions.
VCU’s MCV campus received more funding than the Monroe Park campus, however the Monroe Park research funds, including the College of Engineering, the College of Humanities and Sciences and the School of Business, have been increasing, Rao said. The Qatar campus receives funding from the Qatar Foundation.
“The medical school was roughly half of the entire 363 [million],” Rao said, “so they are the biggest recipient of funding. Following the medical school, it was the school of education, engineering and humanities and sciences, if you look at our dual campuses.”
The university is participating in a handful of ongoing research projects. One includes research by Stephen Fong, a professor in the department of chemical and life science engineering specializing in metabolic engineering and systems biology, according to his faculty biography.
Fong is the director of the Center for Integrative Life Sciences Education (CILSE) and the Integrative Life Sciences Doctoral Program at VCU.
VCU departments and schools are continuously beginning research projects and ideas as well as working on studies that have already begun. Fong has been working on a collaborative project with the Science Museum of Virginia and the University of Richmond, analyzing the heat levels across Richmond and the subsequent impacts on health.
“This summer we were going around and measuring air quality, using air quality sensors in a similar fashion, which can be linked to things like respiratory illness, asthma, other things like that,” Fong said. “So we were also trying to figure out if there’s variation on air quality and related illnesses on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood basis, essentially.”
Both undergraduate and graduate students have the chance to become involved in research at VCU, Fong said.
“It really becomes an opportunity for undergraduates and graduate students to be doing things outside of the classroom, to be having experiences that are really value-added that you just don’t get by reading about it,” Fong said.
The application process for receiving research grants presents research opportunities to many institutions, professionals and students. Proposals tend to be 15 to 25 pages of scientific or scholarly content, a budget and paperwork related to VCU research, Fong said.
“This is funding that they’ve been successful at obtaining by going through that process of writing a proposal, getting it reviewed and getting it funded,” Fong said.
Another research study is from VCU Health’s Smell and Taste Disorders Center, which is tracking the long-term effects COVID-19 has on sense of smell. The study has found that individuals under 40 are more likely to fully recover their loss of smell from COVID-19.
Co-researcher on the study, Evan Reiter, stated in a VCU Health press release that four out of five people infected with COVID-19 regained their sense of smell within six months.
“However, 20% is still a lot of people, given the millions that have been afflicted with COVID-19,” Reiter stated.
COVID-19 shutdowns originally hindered the researchers’ ability to access lab equipment and other resources, according to Rao.
“There were some who were able to do computational research where all they needed was a computer from where they were in their homes, but a number of them had to work in labs; for them, it was a huge problem,” Rao said.
On the contrary, COVID-19 provided many opportunities to study the virus itself and virus-related topics, according to Rao.
“Whether it had to do with vaccines or trials or issues related to rental evictions or labor issues, or issues that the elderly were facing, they [researchers] quickly came up with opportunities for addressing that,” Rao said.
A webinar will be held by P. Srirama Rao and VCU President Michael Rao on Oct. 20 at 3 p.m. to discuss future research plans, including interdisciplinary research between schools. Questions regarding research fund allocations can be submitted through the webinar’s sign-up page.