September 28, 2009

JHU passes $100 million in ARRA funds

The Johns Hopkins University has won 250 research grants, totaling more than $114 million, through provisions in the federal stimulus package designed to advance scientific and medical knowledge while jump-starting the U.S. economy.

The grants will underwrite investigations ranging from what strategies best motivate drug addicts coming out of in-patient rehabilitation to enroll in sobriety support programs, to the role that certain proteins play in the development of muscle-wasting diseases such as muscular dystrophy.

Equally as important, however, the grants are generating jobs at Johns Hopkins and fueling regional economic activity, as employees spend their paychecks and Johns Hopkins laboratories hire personnel and buy supplies.

The federal stimulus package, passed by Congress in February and formally known as the American Recovery and Revitalization Act of 2009, provided the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation with $12.4 billion in additional money to underwrite research grants by September 2010. As of this month, Johns Hopkins researchers have submitted nearly 1,300 proposals for stimulus-funded projects.

“This milestone is a testament to the outstanding research that our world-class faculty is conducting across the university,” said Lloyd Minor, provost and senior vice president for academic affairs. “They have responded to the opportunities created by the stimulus package with the drive, commitment and entrepreneurial spirit that continues to distinguish Johns Hopkins.”

Scott Zeger, vice provost for research, said, “Johns Hopkins faculty and staff have once again risen to the challenge

in service of society by expanding their research programs with ARRA funds to enhance their rate of discovery and the knowledge-based economy in Baltimore and Maryland.”

Elise Weerts, associate professor of behavioral biology in the School of Medicine, is among Johns Hopkins faculty members who have been awarded grant money. In an effort to better understand why some people are more susceptible to abusing alcohol, Weerts will use brain-imaging techniques to explore whether individual differences in the brain’s opiate receptor system contribute to future risk of alcohol problems.

Justin Hanes, a professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering with the Whiting School of Engineering and the Institute for NanoBioTechnology, received recovery funds to develop biodegradable polymer-coated nanoparticles that can penetrate the human cervix’s tough mucus barrier to deliver lifesaving drugs with a minimum of side effects. This approach would provide an alternative to systemic chemotherapy, which often doesn’t work because early cervical tumors are not fed by many blood vessels, and the concentrations of the drug that come through those vessels are often inadequate to affect the tumors.

Jennifer Elisseeff, an associate professor in the Whiting School of Engineering’s Department of Biomedical Engineering, is using her stimulus-funded award to develop components of a tissue-engineered form of “cartilage” that promises relief for the millions of Americans with ailing joints due to age, injury or illnesses such as osteoarthritis.  These components will include composites of biological and synthetic polymers that will interact with native cartilage tissues in the damaged joint to enhance their regeneration.

This spring, Johns Hopkins held a job fair seeking candidates for the specialized science and administrative jobs that were expected to open up, thanks to extra research funding made possible by ARRA funds. As a result of that event, it has begun to hire people for these positions, not only in laboratories but also in budget, information technology and research administration jobs.

Johns Hopkins has been the leading U.S. academic institution in total research and development spending for 29 years in a row.