Auburn University research teams are tackling local and global challenges ranging from housing affordability to advanced manufacturing of medical implants, thanks to a new $5 million investment in 11 groundbreaking projects designed to deliver practical, life-changing solutions.
“Auburn research is on the move,” said Auburn President Steven Leath. “Our world-renowned faculty are leading Auburn in our drive to solve problems, provide real-world benefits and serve the social good.”
The announcement is part of an initiative funded through the Presidential Awards for Interdisciplinary Research, or PAIR, that Leath created last year to propel Auburn to new levels of research and development distinction. The PAIR funding will span three years. Additional research topics include rural health disparities in poverty-stricken areas, treating the hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease, neuroscience research and graduate education, reducing carbon dioxide emissions or using them for other means, and other critical areas of human and environmental health.
Project teams were selected from three award tiers: Tier 1 for new teams, with funding up to $100,000 per year; Tier 2 for established teams, with funding up to $250,000 per year; and Tier 3 for high-impact teams, with funding up to $500,000 per year. All proposals received an in-depth evaluation from Auburn’s associate deans for research, and Tier 3 proposals were also externally evaluated.
Top-evaluated proposals were those that most closely aligned with the goals of PAIR as stated in the program guidelines. From 101 proposals received, 11 project teams will receive funding (the two top-evaluated proposals per tier for up to three years of funding, as well as five additional, top-evaluated Tier 1 proposals for two years of funding with a third-year no-cost extension available).
Project teams to receive funding are:
Project: Creating better bio-medical implants for patients in need using additive manufacturing, or “3D Printing” (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers plan to develop improved implants/orthotics for those with neuromuscular and skeletal system needs through the process of additive manufacturing. This process, also known as “3D printing,” allows for more customizable implants for small animals and humans and the possibility of embedded drugs in implants to ward off infections that can sometimes follow implant surgeries.
The Auburn solution: Research will take place to ensure “3-D printed” biomedical implants will remain durable during use and conform well to a patient’s needs while serving as a reliable drug-delivery source that can offer injury-triggered pain relief. The additive manufacturing process also helps reduce implant production costs.
Project: Unlocking home affordability and prosperity in rural America (Tier 3; $1,275,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are focusing on helping those in poor, rural areas gain greater access to resources that will ultimately lead them to finding affordable housing options.
The Auburn solution: Auburn researchers will work toward the creation of a National Institute of Rural Prosperity that will foster partnerships to help rural residents more easily overcome barriers to home ownership, including mortgage lending, home insurance and local ordinances and policies.
Project: Reducing the burden of neurological disease by increasing fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system (Tier 2; $637,500 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will work to mitigate against mental, neurological and substance use disorders, which make up a substantial proportion of the world’s disease burden.
The Auburn solution: A team of experts in chemistry, physiology, development, degeneration and imaging of the brain will collaborate to develop a neuroscience center to increase fundamental knowledge about the brain and nervous system and to use that knowledge to reduce the burden of neurological disease.
Project: A Mobile mitochondria laboratory (AU MitoMobile) to lead the world in measuring bioenergetics in natural settings (Tier 2; $636,941 total funding over three years)
The issue: Because the successful study of genetic and environmental impacts on mitochondria (the energy-providing part of the cellular makeup of plants and animals) can be severely limited in a laboratory setting, Auburn researchers will collaborate to build a mobile laboratory to bring this research to field sites.
The Auburn solution: A team of evolutionary biologists, environmental biologists, exercise physiologists and engineers will develop a mobile laboratory for measuring mitochondrial energy production of vertebrates at remote locations, such as oil spill sites and other places where environmental disturbances have damaged the health of local wildlife.
Project: Rural African American Aging Research (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will assess the psychosocial stressors that can contribute to the problem of rural African Americans having a lower life expectancy and a faster progression of age-related diseases. Research in this area has the potential to inform health-promoting interventions and polices and lead to health and social equity.
The Auburn solution: PAIR funding will be used to establish a sustainable research structure in east-central Alabama focused on improving health in that community and beyond by partnering with surrounding communities. The ultimate goal is to grow the scientific knowledge of how psychosocial risk factors can accelerate aging among African Americans.
Project: Reducing and reusing carbon dioxide emissions for useful means (Tier 1; $255,000 total funding over three years)
The issue: Auburn researchers seek to combat the dire environmental effects of carbon dioxide emissions through a plan to reduce such emissions and store or utilize them for other useful means.
The Auburn solution: Researchers will work toward the development of an Alabama CO2 Utilization and Storage Center at Auburn University, with a goal of establishing Auburn as a leader in carbon dioxide utilization and storage research focused on best ways to capture CO2 emissions and convert them into helpful forms such as green fuels.
Project: Extra-virgin olive oil examined for uses in treating hallmarks of Alzheimer’s (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are examining the consumption of extra-virgin olive oil for its potential to have a positive effect on the disease hallmarks of Alzheimer’s disease. The research team is seeking to conduct more research into this area to determine the viability of findings for humans.
The Auburn solution: A multidisciplinary team will be assembled to conduct a pilot study on the positive effects of extra-virgin olive oil and to produce data for a strong human clinical trial to be submitted to funding agencies.
Project: Drugs from Dirt: development and characterization of novel antimicrobial compounds (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Because many disease-causing organisms are resistant to current drug therapies, Auburn scientists are pursuing new approaches to the development of antibiotics.
The Auburn solution: Researchers will test and develop new therapeutic strategies for treating infectious diseases, through the study of antiobiotic-producing bacterial cultures they have discovered in soil. These are potentially life-saving antibiotics that could have application in human medicine, agriculture and veterinary practice.
Project: Creating a Climate Information System to aid in planning for climate-related disasters (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers will create a climate service model that will help guide decision making in planning for climate-related disasters that can cause great economic and social damage.
The Auburn solution: A cross-disciplinary team of investigators will develop a science-based Unified Climate Information System to better inform planning, policy and practices at regional, national and global scales. In addition to exploring emerging climate data, the research will seek to improve and integrate impact models for water quantity, water quality, crop growth and disease transmission simulations. The project also will include the creation of an interactive website platform, with all work being focused on the southeastern U.S. and being easily adaptable to other locations worldwide.
Project: Emerging Contaminants Research Team (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn experts are conducting research into newly recognized environmental contaminants, such as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have not been studied sufficiently to determine their impact on the environment and their possible health risks to humans and wildlife.
The Auburn solution: This Auburn research team will use its expertise in civil engineering, pharmacology, aquatic sciences and other key areas to collaborate on focused research into the effects of these and other previously understudied contaminants, to increase knowledge and public awareness of risk factors.
Project: Development of the AU-NASH Research Program (Tier 1; $150,000 total funding over two years)
The issue: Auburn researchers are seeking solutions to the problem of nonalcoholic steatotic hepatitis, or NASH, the most severe form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and perhaps the most significant form of chronic liver disease in the world today, which has no current approved therapies available.
The Auburn solution: The research team will work to address this urgent, unmet medical need by developing a disease therapy program to increase positive outcomes for those suffering from liver disease.
For more details on each PAIR project and how Auburn is inspiring as a leading provider of life-changing research, creative scholarship and community engagement, visit auburn.edu/auburninspires.