Funded Strategic Initiative Grants

Level I

Establishing Social-Computational Collaboration Towards Credible Social Media
($206,305 over two years)

  • Fengjun Li, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Hyunjin Seo, School of Journalism and Mass Communications

Online credibility, including content trustworthiness, entity credibility, and social-behavioral responsibility, is crucial for a healthy and sustainable Internet economy and a trustworthy online society. This project works toward the goal of examining and defeating social spamming and automated “astroturfing” attacks. Success of the project will establish intensive collaboration between social and computational science researchers at KU and develop an interdisciplinary, self-sustainable research program to understand and enhance online credibility.


Dissecting the Function of Pediatric Disease Genes in Model Systems
($299,330 over three years)

  • Brian Ackley, Molecular Biosciences
  • Erik Lundquist, Molecular Biosciences
  • Stuart Macdonald, Molecular Biosciences
  • Robert Ward, Molecular Biosciences

While advances in genome sequencing technology have enabled clinicians to identify all the genetic variants in humans with disease, this does not answer how these variations contribute to the patient’s symptoms. The team will work with the Center for Pediatric Genomic Medicine at Children’s Mercy Hospital to obtain information about genetic changes in sick children that may underlie their diseases. The team will then use well-established model organisms and create equivalent lesions in the genomes to determine whether they are detrimental to the organisms.


Consortium Targeting Small Ubiquitin-related Modifier (SUMO) for the Treatment of Inflammatory-Related Diseases
($299, 680 over three years)

  • Nancy Muma, Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Yoshiaki Azuma, Molecular Biosciences
  • Jeff Staudinger, Pharmacology and Toxicology

Numerous diseases (cancers, depression, schizophrenia) are associated with chronic and uncontrolled inflammation. The multidisciplinary SUMO Research Consortium employs existing KU strengths in drug discovery and development to develop novel methods to screen for therapeutically relevant drug targets. The binding of a SUMO protein to target proteins is a relatively newly discovered post-translational modification. Research in multiple disciplines has identified the SUMOylation pathway as an “Achilles heel” in controlling inflammation. Using KU Core Facilities, the team will create three novel approaches to interrogate drug targets and identify lead compounds. It will also establish an annual symposium on SUMO research breakthroughs.


Sustainable Hydrocarbon Recovery in Unconventional Reservoirs
($299,000 over two years)

  • Jenn-Tai Liang, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, Tertiary Oil Recovery Program
  • Cory Berkland, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Reza Barati, Chemical & Petroleum Engineering
  • Jyun-Sung Tsau, Tertiary Oil Recovery Program
  • Steve Johnson, Tertiary Oil Recovery Program
  • Ed Peltier, Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, Kansas Transportation Research Institute
  • Belinda Sturm, Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, Kansas Transportation Research Institute
  • Karen Peltier, Tertiary Oil Recovery Program

KU already has a reputation for research into enhanced oil recovery in conventional reservoirs. This initiative will utilize a range of technologies and involve the formation of joint industry projects in four thrust areas: produced water treatments, hydraulic fracturing in shale formations, enhanced oil recovery in shale formations and reservoir characterization and simulation.


Developing a Research Consortium on Aggression and Drug Abuse
($383,174 over three years)

  • Marco Bortolato, Pharmacology and Toxicology
  • Merlin Butler, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, KUMC
  • Paula Fite, Clinical Child Psychology
  • Erik Lundquist, Molecular Biosciences
  • Ann Manzardo, Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, KUMC

The consortium will be the first multidisciplinary network in the country for studying how and why pathological impulsive aggression and substance abuse and addition disorders exist concurrently but independently in a subject. Using a unique combination of clinical and preclinical studies, the goal is to develop effective preventive and therapeutic interventions.


Creating a Center for Metagenomic Microbial Community Analysis
($299,295 over two years)

  • Belinda Sturm, Civil, Environmental, and Architectural Engineering, Kansas Transportation Research Institute
  • Sharon Billings, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological Survey
  • Stuart Macdonald, Molecular Biosciences
  • Jennifer Roberts, Geology
  • Ben Sikes, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Kansas Biological Survey

Microorganisms are abundant in humans, soils and waters throughout the world. Understanding the structure and function of microbial communities promises to provide revolutionary insights for human health, environmental sustainability, and energy generation. This project applies existing next-generation DNA sequencing and computing infrastructure at KU to advance knowledge of microbial communities in diverse environments.


Establishing a Multi-Disciplinary Data Science Research Team at the University of Kansas
($282,000 over two years)

  • Jun “Luke” Huan, Electrical Engineering and Computer Science
  • Jeff Aubé, Medicinal Chemistry
  • Erik Lundquist, Molecular Biosciences
  • Susan Lunte, Chemistry, Pharmaceutical Chemistry
  • Blake Peterson, Medicinal Chemistry

Fast-evolving technologies for data collection, transmission and analysis mean the scientific, biomedical and engineering research communities are undergoing a profound transformation.  Discoveries and innovations rely increasingly on massive amounts of data, and so-called Big Data is a funding priority for the NSF and NIH.  This project will establish a multidisciplinary data science research team at KU, focused initially on genomics data analysis and chemical biology data analysis. Expected outcomes include scalable machine learning algorithms on many-core architectures, the efficient application of big data in high-throughput sequencing data analysis, and the efficient application of big data in computational chemical biology research. 


Chemical Biology Team Science Approach to Cancer Drug Discovery
($400,000 over two years)

  • Kristi Neufeld, Molecular Biosciences
  • Liang Xu, Molecular Biosciences

The project capitalizes on KU’s research strengths in basic cancer biology and medicinal chemistry by building a team whose initial collective focus is the RNA-binding protein Musashi.  Musashi stimulates cancer cell proliferation by decreasing production of proteins that normally keep cells from dividing inappropriately.  Musashi protein is found at high levels in several cancers, including colon, brain, liver, endometrial, cervical, and breast cancer. When cancer cells are grown in a specialized mouse model, their growth is inhibited if Musashi protein levels are reduced. These and other features make Musashi a promising target for a novel class of cancer therapy.  The data and leads obtained will enable the team to apply for a wide variety of Federal grants in support of further drug discovery.


The Discovery and Development of New Antifungal Agents
($203,763 over two years)

  • Berl Oakley, Molecular Biosciences
  • Paul Hanson, Chemistry
  • Scott Hefty, Molecular Biosciences
  • Les Mitscher, Medicinal Chemistry

Preliminary data from their collaborative laboratories have revealed a structurally novel, naturally occurring, non-toxic compound (kramerixin) that demonstrates fungicidal activity at micromolar concentrations by inhibiting the activity of a selected target.  The project will develop safe potential antifungal therapeutic agents that cover a wide range of pathogenic fungi, are fungicidal, useful by oral or topical routes, have a low resistance development potential, and can be produced in an economical manner. The immediate goal is to identify attractive leads to be examined in vivo for their therapeutic potential in a subsequent grant period.


Establish a KU Center for Antimicrobial Discovery and Development
($291,687 over three years)

  • Scott Hefty, Molecular Biosciences
  • Jeff Aubé, Medicinal Chemistry
  • Susan Egan, Molecular Biosciences
  • Berl Oakley, Molecular Biosciences
  • Michael Parmely, Microbiology, Molecular Genetics, & Immunology (KUMC)
  • Mario Rivera, Chemistry

The project establishes a strong and committed Center for Antimicrobial Discovery and Development at KU.  The center takes advantage of combined existing strengths within the School of Pharmacy, departments of the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, and departments at the KU Medical Center.  The goal is to focus efforts on reducing the urgent and growing public health threat of infectious diseases, due to the loss of effective antibiotics.  Activities will include regular, well-structured communications to enhance sharing and develop research projects, financial support for key feasibility studies for competitive external funding proposals, and development of a new graduate program designed to educate and train students to work in this area.  The center positions KU as a leading academic institution for addressing this medical challenge, and also provides a central interface for industrial partners and continuing research activities.


Determining the Effects of Rising CO2 and Temperature on Flowering Time:
Scientific and Social Implications

($328,867 over three years)

  • Joy Ward, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Joane Nagel, Sociology
  • Lena Hileman, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The developmental timing of plants has a major influence on ecosystem functioning, food security, and human interactions worldwide.  Flowering time has been used as a major proxy for detecting the effects of climate change on plants. A variety of field studies have documented flowering times during recent, warmer decades relative to earlier, cooler decades. Most of these studies have attributed earlier flowering to increasing temperatures, while ignoring the potential role of rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. This multidisciplinary project will fully delineate the effects of rising levels of CO2 and temperature on flowering times over the past century and during the next 50-75 years, providing a better understanding of the potential impacts of these changes on ecosystems and human societies.


The Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training: Phase II Expansion
($250,000 annually for three years)

  • Debra Kamps, Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training
  • R. Matt Reese, Kansas Center for Autism Research and Training

The grant provides a competitive start-up package in support of a new faculty recruitment that will bring NIH-level funding to KU as well as national standing in the area of research on the physical aspects of autism. The new position – a joint appointment in the Clinical Child Psychology Program and the Life Span Institute, in collaboration with the Pediatrics Department at the KU Medical Center – strengthens the existing center and improves KU’s ability to compete for large NIH-funded grants.


Initiative for the Arts in Collaborative Research
($92,000 annually for three years)

  • Saralyn Reece Hardy, Spencer Museum of Art
  • Stephen Goddard, Spencer Museum of Art

The School of the Arts, the Information and Telecommunication Technology Center, and the Biodiversity Institute will partner with the Spencer Museum to develop a broad foundation for future funding of a center dedicated to innovative research that integrates the arts, sciences, technology, and society. The grant supports creative residencies, technology enhancements, and publications.


Forecasting Emerging Diseases for Communities and Public Health
($150,000 annually for two years)

  • A. Townsend Peterson, Biodiversity Institute
  • Perry Alexander, Information and Telecommunication Technology Center
  • Stephen Goddard, Spencer Museum of Art
  • Kris Krishtalka, Biodiversity Institute
  • James Beach, Biodiversity Institute
  • Jorge Soberón, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

The grant helps establish an open-access Virtual Vector Laboratory, integrating and enhancing existing KU research expertise in automated pattern recognition and species identification. The outcome will be a web-based early warning and response system that enables public health workers to identify pathogen-transmitting species quickly and receive information about the potential for the spread of disease.


Continuing Discovery of Novel Biomedical Leads from Kansas Plants
($400,000 over three years)

  • Barbara Timmermann, Medicinal Chemistry
  • Kelly Kindscher, Kansas Biological Survey

NMPRP is a unique collaboration of two departments at KU-Lawrence that integrates the existing expertise in medicinal chemistry, natural products chemistry, botany, biomedical research and conservation of natural resources for the improvement of human health and well-being. Our program encompasses the institutional priorities and strategic initiative themes of KU. It primarily advances the promoting of Well-being, Finding Cures theme through: discovery of drug leads and therapies in native plants of Kansas; future creation of employment and economic growth opportunities through compound commercialization and sustainable plant propagation in the State; and learning from the wisdom of individuals and cultures of the past which plants hold promise for future cures.

Level II

High-Fidelity Numerical Modeling of Glacier Science
($39,500)

  • Zhongquan “Charlie” Zheng, Aerospace Engineering
  • Zhi Jian “ZJ” Wang, Aerospace Engineering
  • Cornelis “Kees” van der Veen, Geography
  • Leigh Stearns, Geology

The project will enable a team with strong numerical expertise and strong glaciology expertise to build up synergies and capabilities for future proposals to NSF, NASA, and other federal agencies and laboratories. Recent developments in the Center for Remote Sensing of Ice Sheets (CReSIS) require high-fidelity numerical model simulations for glacier science. This project will develop a numerical model to simulate all aspects of glacier motion and incorporate measured data from CReSIS, particularly boundary conditions correlated with the higher resolution data that is a current CReSIS focus. The simulated formation and motion of glaciers, resulting in growing or thinning of ice sheets, can provide indicators of climate change.


Phylogenomics of Vertebrate Adaptive Radiations in Island Archipelagos of the Southwest Pacific
($49,976)

  • Rafe Brown, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology
  • Robert Moyle, Ecology and Evolutionary Biology

Building on newly-developed genomics technology and bioinformatic analysis pipelines, this project will support development of two major external funding opportunities involving “Next-Generation” DNA sequencing (NGS) on KU's Lawrence campus. Building on previous NSF-funded grants, and a five-year collaborative research program in evolutionary processes of diversification, the team will convert KU Biodiversity Institute laboratories to Ultra-Conserved Elements NGS data capture and analysis. This conversion includes development of new training opportunities, technology, and bioinformatics tools to utilize state-of-the-art DNA sequencing technology.  The result will be greatly enhanced capacity for NGS data capture necessary for other initiatives in the Biodiversity Institute and Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, including studies in ecological sustainability, response of Kansas plants and animals to climate change, invasive species, agricultural pests, disease vectors, and the consequent effects on humans via changes in ecosystem services.


Developing a Mobile Col-Laboratory for Civic Engagement
($29,000)

  • Shannon Criss, Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Nils Gore, Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Andrea Witczak, Center for Civic and Social Responsibility
  • Vicki Collie-Akers, Life Span Institute
  • Marilu Goodyear, Public Affairs and Administration
  • Yo Jackson, Applied Behavioral Science

This project will build and utilize a mobile laboratory to foster one-on-one, collaborative, interactive planning and design.  The goal is to imagine publicly shared spaces that promote positive community life, engagement through art and culture, and healthy lifestyles. The project involves adapting an existing recreational vehicle trailer to create a “community room” on wheels – taking scholars to the people to seek specific needs, assess opportunities, make connections, and propose small-scale projects that attempt to transform a community’s built environment. Having such a mobile lab would make KU competitive for external grants that require researchers to have a regular presence in a local community.


I-70 Interdisciplinary Aging Research Network
($50,000)

  • Dennis Domer, Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Susan Kemper, Psychology
  • David Ekerdt, Sociology

KU and at least eight other higher education institutions along the I-70 highway corridor in Kansas and Missouri have expertise in various aspects of aging and aging research. The project will lay the foundation for an I-70 Aging Research Network, and will identify targets of opportunity for seeking additional federal and private foundation infrastructure support.  This includes preparation of a competitive application in response to a current NIH request: “Network and Infrastructure Support for Development of Interdisciplinary Aging Research.”


Kansas Anti-Human Trafficking and Slavery Initiative: KASHTI
($39,809)

  • Hannah Britton, Political Science and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies
  • Katie Cronin, Law
  • Dorothy Daley, Political Science and Environmental Studies
  • Shannon O'Lear, Geography and Environmental Studies
  • Mariya Omelicheva, Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
  • Emily Rauscher, Sociology
  • Akiko Takeyama, Anthropology and Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies

The project creates a research network at KU to design and test a research model about the factors that contribute to human trafficking patterns in the Kansas City area. These include inequality of health care, education, political capital, and income. The project builds upon a successful national conference held at KU in 2013 and the formation of a faculty working group on human trafficking.  It envisions KU as an analytical hub for research on this topic, using an empirical model and live field testing to position KU for external grant applications. Little is known about the victims of human trafficking before they enter the criminal justice system, specifically how persons move from a context of vulnerability into a situation of being trafficked. There are almost no empirically-verifiable data about the prevalence of human trafficking. The project seeks to understand the cluster of complex factors that pull persons into trafficking.


Investment in the Kansas City Area Education Research
($32,354)

  • Donna Ginther, Economics
  • Leigh Anne Taylor Knight, Institute for Policy & Social Research
  • Joseph Heppert, Research and Graduate Studies
  • John Rury, Educational Leadership and Policy Studies

This proposal provides funding for the Kansas City Area Education Research Consortium. The investment demonstrates KU’s commitment to supporting high-quality education research in Kansas City, and supports additional proposals to the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Hall Family Foundation, the Kauffman Foundation, and other organizations.  Such funding will bring significant recognition to KU as a national leader in multidisciplinary education research.


Tough Piezoelectric Composite Materials for Spine Implants
($28,500)

  • Lisa Friis, Mechanical Engineering
  • Paul Arnold, Neurological Surgery, KU Medical Center
  • John Domann, Mechanical Engineering

The grant allows continued research and increases the chances of success for two anticipated large proposals to NSF and NIH. The project involves development of a spinal fusion implant that will provide electrical stimulation to the fusion site, increasing bone healing. Funding will help establish new relationships with a prototype manufacturer, a biologist, and large-animal test facilities.


Resilient Lifestyles for Older Adults: Seeding a Center on Sustainable Longevity
($49,557)

  • Keith Diaz Moore, Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Dorothy Daley, Political Science
  • David Ekerdt, Sociology
  • Mahbub Rashid, Architecture, Design and Planning
  • Dory Sabata, Occupational Therapy, KU Medical Center
  • Amber Watts, Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis
  • Stacey White, Urban Planning
  • Kristine Williams, School of Nursing, KU Medical Center

Researchers seek to position KU as a recognized leader in translational research that improves the quality of long life for older adults while sustaining the socio-ecological system. It builds upon current work in the Gerontology Center, the Center for Environmental Policy, the School of Architecture, Design and Planning, and the KU Alzheimer's Disease Center.


Neuroimaging of TBI-associated Alzheimer’s disease in the KU Wounded Warrior Program
($27,285)

  • David Johnson, Gerontology Center
  • William Brooks, Hoglund Brain Imaging Center
  • Jeffrey Burns, KU Alzheimer & Memory Program
  • Michael Denning, Office of Professional Military Graduate Education
  • Randy Masten, Office of Professional Military Graduate Education

This team’s long term goal is to develop the KU Alzheimer’s Disease Center’s research capacity to detect and diagnose neurological change found in TBI-associated AD. The team has planned an aggressive timeline of submitting 5 proposals over the next 12 months and to use the summer to build the TBI recruitment infrastructure of the Wounded Warrior Program at the Warrior Transition Unit at Ft Riley.


Anti-Bullying Intervention Development Initiative
($32,029)

  • Anne Williford, Social Welfare
  • Patricia Hawley, Psychology
  • Todd Little, Center for Research Methods and Data Analysis
  • Paula Fite, Psychology and Behavioral Science
  • Eric Vernberg, Psychology

Consistent with the Strategic Initiative Theme, “Building Communities, Expanding Opportunities,” an interdisciplinary team at KU plans to develop a new anti-bullying intervention based on theoretical and empirical evidence from social psychology, social work, and industrial/organizational psychology – viewpoints largely absent from the bullying prevention literature yet offer distinct ways in which interventions can alter student and staff perceptions, attitudes, and beliefs that lead to intended changes in individual behavior as well as in cultural norms at the school and classroom levels.


Community Based Development of Pilot Program to Promote Health among Urban Latino Youth in a School Based Setting
($24,562)

  • Michelle Johnson-Motoyama, Social Welfare
  • Paula Fite, Psychology and Behavioral Science
  • Michelle Levy, Social Welfare

This proposal seeks seed funding for the participatory development a pilot program to promote health and positive youth development in collaboration with the Alta Vista Charter High School (AVCHS) of Kansas City, Missouri, a program of Guadalupe Centers, Inc. The proposed research cuts across emerging research clusters by addressing health disparities, promoting health, and expanding youth opportunities. 

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Bold Aspirations is the strategic plan for KU, comprising individual plans for the following:

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