Seinfeld had Larry David. Apple Computer Inc. had Steve Jobs. UGA’s new Center for Drug Discovery has Vasu Nair.
Many successful ideas have fulcrum men to leverage them into the big leagues. And Nair, a Georgia Research Alliance Eminent Scholar and head of the pharmaceutical and biomedical sciences department at UGA’s College of Pharmacy, is coming out swinging for the new cross-disciplinary center.
“It’s all about bringing people together,” says Nair, who also heads the center.
The CDD aims to create new medicine to combat and prevent infectious diseases. By meshing disciplines from chemistry to biology, the center hopes to grease the research process and bridge gaps.
“Science these days does not operate in single disciplines. The research involves quite a number of areas,” Nair says. “For example, what they’re doing in nanotechnology is very important in the field of drug discovery. We need to bring people together to foster research in this area and facilitate collaboration.”
But it’s not just an intra-university partnership; the center is a partnership with Emory University, the Medical College of Georgia, Georgia State University and Georgia Tech. Although most of the 25 faculty members teach at UGA, the spirit of cooperation is crucial to its success, according to Nair.
“The idea is to bring people together so they can help the state of Georgia and, of course, increase federal funding toward scientific discovery of new therapeutic drugs,” he says.
The center will work closely with other UGA units involved in medical research, including the Biomedical and Health Sciences Institute, the Cancer Center and the Complex Carbohydrate Research Center.
After two years of planning, organizing and going through various UGA committees, the regents approved the center. The faculty held its first meeting last month where scientists shared ideas about interdisciplinary work and collaborative teaching.
“Let’s get going. I don’t want to wait and put things off for another six months or another semester,” said Janet Westpheling, associate professor of genetics and CDD member.
She was not alone. The meeting ended with the professors, some of whom did not know each other, agreeing to hold regular sessions in which one or two would present their research interests.
The logic goes that if two researchers can find a common ground on their own, they can easily jump into research crossovers or start collaborative teaching.
Initially the center will focus on the treatment and prevention of infectious diseases, mainly viruses and bacterial infections. Looking ahead, Nair would like to see the research expand to cover cancer and other diseases.
“For the moment we are focusing on infectious diseases because there is such a global need for drug discovery in that area,” Nair says.
But that doesn’t mean the center will start out slowly. As the center begins operations, Nair says the university can expect big things.
“I think that we will have a conference every year with leaders in the field not only from the U.S., but around the world,” he says.