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Exploring the unknown

Sapelo Island 2014-h
Researchers working as part of the Marine Institute at Sapelo Island have been conducting ecological research on Georgia's salt-marsh dominated coastline since 1953.

UGA’s research efforts aim to solve many of humanity's challenges

As a land- and sea-grant institution, the University of Georgia has a responsibility to create new knowledge that promises to enrich the lives of people in Georgia, the nation and the world. Research is key to fulfilling this responsibility.

UGA is a comprehensive research university and its more than 2,800 faculty work diligently to address many of humanity’s grand challenges, utilizing skills and experiences from fields as diverse as veterinary medicine, agriculture, genetics, psychology, bioenergy, regenerative bioscience, food safety, public health, cancer, obesity, engineering, pharmaceuticals and nanoscience.

“We have a strong and varied research program, which touches in some way all of human endeavor,” said UGA President Jere W. Morehead in his recent State of the University address. “The life of the mind and the power of inquiry are thriving here.”

An overview of UGA’s entire research enterprise would fill volumes, but a full appreciation of its depth and character can be found by examining efforts to address two challenges facing the state of Georgia, the nation and the world: improving human health and safeguarding the environment. These efforts require collaboration among faculty, research scientists and students from across UGA’s 17 colleges and schools. The interdisciplinary centers and institutes within UGA’s Office of the Vice President for Research provide enhanced interactions and focus.

The commitment to improve health for all humanity is a major focus of numerous research laboratories and campus initiatives that track diseases, develop new treatments and provide outreach programs to help local communities.

The UGA Cancer Center brings together experts from a variety of disciplines to create the next generation of diagnostics and therapeutics as well as vaccines and other prevention strategies that will help stem the tide of cancer deaths throughout the world. A unique aspect to UGA’s war on cancer is its specialized ability to study glycans, tiny sugar molecules on the exterior of all living cells that may be the key to new and improved cancer diagnostics and therapies.

At UGA’s Center for Molecular Medicine, researchers work to better understand the molecular and cellular basis of human disease and to use this information for the development of new therapies, cures and diagnostics. Therapeutics developed may be in the form of stem cell-based therapies, vaccines, new drugs, antibodies or protein pharmaceuticals. Research programs also focus on the identification of new biomarkers and other tools that have direct applications to a range of diseases including cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders and diabetes.

Human stem cells have great potential for restoring damaged tissues throughout the body and also accelerating the drug discovery process. At the Regenerative Bioscience Center, scientists are both using stem cells to restore the damaged tissues and, in the Petri dish, to discover new compounds to treat diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease.

UGA also launched a major campus-wide initiative in January 2012 to help the state and nation stem its growing epidemic of childhood and adult obesity. With programs rooted in a combination of research and outreach efforts, members of the Obesity Initiative are finding creative and reproducible techniques to help the two-thirds of adults and one-third of children in the U.S. who are overweight or obese live happier, healthier lives. More than 100 UGA faculty are focused on promising areas of obesity research, including epigenetics, immunology, targeted pharmaceuticals and food ingredients as well as exercise, functional fitness and persuasive communications strategies.

The William A. and Barbara R. Owens Institute for Behavioral Research brings together faculty who specialize in social and behavioral sciences. Together, they research solutions to some of society’s most pressing needs, including addiction, family health, racism, education and conservation. Researchers here also combine neuroscience with behavioral studies to better understand affective disorders, compulsive behavior, cognition, sensation and perception.

Scientists in the Center for Tropical and Emerging Global Diseases, the Faculty of Infectious Diseases and the Biomedical and Health Science Institute are developing interventions, including outreach programs, diagnostics, therapeutics and vaccines, for some of the world’s most insidious and debilitating infectious diseases. They address threats from the emergence and re-emergence of infectious disease-almost 70 percent originate in animals-and strive to improve global health through the integration of the sciences of human medicine, animal medicine, public health and ecological and environmental sciences. Researchers in these centers translate research results into medical and public health interventions designed to halt the advance of diseases in the U.S. and throughout the world.

Members of the Nanoscale Science and Engineering Center are developing new materials and devices at nanometer scales to address emerging research and developing needs in national security, sensing and diagnostics, biomedical imaging, drug and vaccine development, cancer treatment, environmental and renewable energy applications.

Researchers at UGA also are concerned about the health of the environment. The university is home to a number of critically important programs, including the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, the Odum School of Ecology and the Warnell School of Forestry and Natural Resources, each designed to help us understand Earth’s complex ecosystems, climate and the steps that must be taken to ensure a sustainable future.

Members of UGA’s Bioenergy Systems Research Institute are discovering new methods to produce energy from renewable plant resources that leave a much smaller carbon footprint than traditional fossil fuels. By studying every facet of the biomass lifecycle-from optimally selecting or designing and growing plants that can be more efficiently converted to energy, to enhancing methods for harvesting, transporting, processing, treating and, finally, converting biomass to fuels, power and material-they are advancing economically viable energy alternatives that enhance our nation’s energy security.

The Georgia Initiative for Climate and Society is dedicated to improving the understanding of the complex processes and effects of climate change, and developing new strategies to mitigate the impacts of a warming planet. Faculty in this field look for the relationships among climate, ecosystems, managed systems, natural resources and society.

UGA’s marine scientists are seeking to answer fundamental questions about the state’s coastal areas, which provide habitats for fish and birds, protect against storm surges, filter impurities from the water, and are home to an increasing human population. Since 1953, marine scientists and ecologists at the UGA Marine Institute at Sapelo Island have conducted ecological research on Georgia’s salt-marsh dominated coastline. Just two years earlier in 1951, the Atomic Energy Commission (now the Department of Energy) founded the Savannah River Ecology Laboratory near Aiken, S.C., with UGA researchers spearheading a new era of ecological research. Since that time, the laboratory has played a crucial role in advancing the fundamental science of ecology and supporting evidence-based environmental stewardship. Last year, the Skidaway Institute of Oceanography merged with UGA, expanding the university’s research presence on coastal Georgia and creating new educational opportunities.

Addressing environmental challenges includes developing new approaches to sustainable land use and assuring agricultural production. At UGA’s Plant Center, researchers using cutting-edge techniques from plant molecular biology, genetics and genomics are discovering solutions to safeguarding the environment while sustainably meeting the food, feed, fiber and fuel needs of an ever-increasing population.