American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA)
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University of Kentucky successfully secures stimulus funds

The University of Kentucky has received $111.5 million in competitive federal grant funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (ARRA). UK’s Vice President for Research James W. Tracy says, “In these tough economic times, the things that will push UK closer to Top 20 status remain the same—great people, new facilities and leading-edge technology. UK is using these funds to advance its Top 20 research agenda, to attract excellent faculty, and train the next generation of scholars and scientists.”

ARRA awards to UK

As of June 1, 2011

  • $111,567,248
  • 186 awards

See all ARRA awards (18-page pdf)

ARRA project highlights

UK gets $6 million grant to promote electronic health records

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded more than $6 million in ARRA funding to UK to assist Kentucky physicians with maximizing the use of electronic health records. UK will establish the first Kentucky-based Health Information Technology Regional Extension Center (REC) solely focused on serving Kentucky health care practitioners. This investment will help grow the emerging health information technology industry, which is expected to support tens of thousands of jobs ranging from nurses and pharmacy techs to IT technicians and trainers. UK’s REC partners include the University of Louisville, Kentucky’s Area Health Education Centers, Health Care Excel, and HealthBridge. Carol Steltenkamp, UK’s chief medical information officer, says that electronic health records will improve patient care across the state: “RECs will focus on helping health care practitioners in small practices, and small-community and critical-access hospitals, on how best to utilize electronic medical records and health information technology.”

man at computer late at nightFinding the link between light cues, circadian rhythms and hypertension

Approximately 8.6 million Americans are shift workers, a fact that increases their risk of cardiovascular and cardiopulmonary diseases. In 2007 the National Institute of Environmental Health (NIEHS) released a report on light pollution noting that the “dramatic increases in chronic diseases in modern society may be associated with the altered patterns of light and dark.” Circadian rhythms (exhibited over a daily 24-hour cycle in animals, plants and humans) and molecular clock factors are known to affect learning, hormone production, metabolism, and cell regeneration. UK’s Karyn Esser and Francisco Andrade (Department of Physiology, Center for Muscle Biology) received a two-year $996,474 ARRA grant from the NIEHS to study the interaction between molecular clock function in different muscle tissues and environmental light challenges with a specific focus on their contribution to cardiopulmonary diseases.  Esser and Andrade’s seven-member team will disrupt a key circadian gene, BmaI1, in muscle and manipulate environmental light cues to determine the interaction between genetic and environmental factors in the progression of cardiopulmonary disease. They hypothesize that targeted deletion of BmaI1 in muscle tissue will weaken a mouse’s ability to adapt to light pollution and will be associated with a more rapid progression of diseases such as hypertension and Type 2 diabetes.

UK wins $6.4 million grant for rodent laboratory

The University of Kentucky has received a $6.4 million ARRA grant to build a new laboratory for collecting, maintaining and storing rodent sperm and embryos for use in genetic research. The grant from the National Center for Research Resources, part of the National Institutes of Health, will support the 9,026-square-foot laboratory's construction as part of a fourth-floor renovation of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging. The laboratory will be comprised of three facilities, in which researchers will cryogenically preserve sperm and embryos; provide sterile barriers to maintain research-project integrity; and isolate specimens of specific strains with certain microbial characteristics to meet researchers' needs. UK Vice President for Research James W. Tracy is the principal investigator on the project, which is being performed under the supervision of the Office of the Vice President for Research. When completed, the laboratory will serve researchers from across the university.

CAER new building sketchCAER to expand with $11.8 million NIST grant

The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) awarded $11.8 million in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding to support the expansion of the University of Kentucky's Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER). This grant is being matched with $3.5 million from the Commonwealth of Kentucky and $1 million from UK. An additional award of $3.5 million in state ARRA funds (from the Department of Energy Development and Independence) to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification brings the total funding to $19.8 million.

CAER Director Rodney Andrews is the principal investigator on this grant which will significantly expand the 30-year-old center with a new 43,000-square-foot laboratory dedicated to research in the biomass and biofuels industries, advanced distributed power generation and storage, and technologies for electric vehicles. In addition to wide-ranging research in support of the coal and electric power industries, CAER has expanded over time to address issues in carbon capture and management, electrochemical energy storage, biomass energy and biofuels, and other renewable energy systems such as photovoltaic and thermoelectric power. The facility will include labs for process development, prototype manufacturing and testing, as well as applied research on batteries, capacitors, solar energy materials, and biofuels. A portion of the new facility will be equipped specifically for capacitor and battery manufacturing research. The Kentucky Biofuels Laboratory, an analytical laboratory managed as an open-access user facility, will also be located within the new expansion. The project is expected to be completed in summer 2012.

UK leads $6 million study of medicinal plants
The University of Kentucky is the lead university on a $6 million ARRA grant from the National Institutes of Health to study the molecular genetics and biochemical potential of medicinal plants. UK’s Joe Chappell (plant and soil sciences) will capture the genetic blueprints of 14 plants, such as ginseng and foxglove, known for their medicinal and therapeutic value. By studying the plants’ genetic makeup to determine key components that may be important in treating human diseases, this project will speed up drug development efforts. Experts from Michigan State, MIT, Iowa State, University of Mississippi, Purdue, and Texas A&M will partner on this two-year project.

ash traySmoke-free Rural Kentucky
College of Nursing Professor Ellen Hahn is perhaps Kentucky’s best-known crusader for smoke-free workplaces. Her research has led to 14 communities with comprehensive smoke-free laws, protecting 30 percent of Kentucky’s population.  “Lexington’s law resulted in 16,500 fewer smokers for an estimated annual healthcare cost savings of $21 million,” Hahn says.

Her smoke-free research has moved from the city to rural Kentucky communities. “We’ve been collecting data that will tell us what rural communities are thinking and doing as far as smoke-free policies go.” And the one-year, $19,780 ARRA supplemental grant from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute will allow Hahn to test the effects of an intervention—that combines assessment of community readiness with proven dissemination strategies—on smoke-free policy in rural communities. Hahn’s team will conduct phone interviews and gather stories for and against smoking bans from 51 Kentucky newspapers. “Our goal is to protect residents in rural, underserved communities from premature death and disease from exposure to secondhand smoke.”

teacher and studentTraining Teachers in Autism
The CDC estimates that one in every 150 American children has an autism spectrum disorder. And while the focus on early identification efforts in recent years has been effective in increasing the number of children with autism receiving services in schools, those services are of uneven quality. University of Kentucky researchers Lisa Ruble and Lee Ann Jung say that all children with autism, regardless of family income, race or geographic location, need access to high-quality, early intervention services. And they are targeting training for special education teachers.

Ruble, an associate professor in school psychology, and co-investigators Jung, Jennifer Grisham-Brown and Michael Toland from the College of Education received a $998,940 ARRA grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to examine three types of professional development training and compare their effects on autistic child and their teachers. The UK team will follow 25 children whose teachers receive only basic online autism training, 25 children whose teachers and parents receive consultation from the research team followed by in-classroom teacher coaching, and 25 children whose teachers and parents receive consultation followed by web-based teacher coaching. Ruble will also evaluate the impact of these consultations on parental stress. Ruble’s team includes eight UK researchers and students. Teachers from 10 Kentucky counties are participating the first year: Bourbon, Clark, Fayette, Franklin, Madison, Mercer, Powell, Scott, Spencer, and Woodford.

Targeting lignin for biofuel
Making fuel from biomass—a.k.a. plant material—is nothing new. Cellulose, a component of the cell wall, is the main target for biofuels production today. While cellulose is good, lignin is better. Lignin, the plant cell component that gives corn stalks their rigidity, is more energy dense than cellulose. Cellulose is easily fermented to alcohol, but lignin is not.

A four-year, $1.98 million ARRA grant from the National Science Foundation will fund a project to develop efficient thermochemical (heat and pressure) methods to convert lignin by understanding the chemistry of deconstructing lignin at the molecular level, and engineering plant cells to make it easier and less energy-intensive to process lignin into fuels and chemicals.

Biomass potentially could produce more than 60 billion gallons of fuel annually—replacing nearly a third of the gasoline Americans use.

The lignin project is based at the UK Center for Applied Energy Research (CAER) and headed by CAER Director Rodney Andrews. The research team includes Mark Meier (chemistry), Seth DeBolt (horticulture), Mike Montross (Biosystems & Agricultural Engineering), and Mark Crocker and Samuel Morton (CAER).

pillsReducing opioid abuse
According to a 2006 drug use survey, 5.2 million Americans had illicitly used a prescription opioid (like morphine, Vicodin or OxyContin) in the past month. National rates of non-prescription opioid use are higher than those for heroin, cocaine or methamphetamine, and are exceeded only by marijuana use.

University of Kentucky researcher William W. Stoops has received a two-year, $1.17 million ARRA grant from the National Institutes of Health. An assistant professor in the College of Medicine’s Department of Behavioral Science and the UK Center for Drug and Alcohol Research, Stoops is studying the pharmacological effects of tramadol, a synthetic opioid that, based on its novel pharmacology, has less potential for abuse than other opium-derived painkillers. Stoops’ research could help determine key factors needed to develop other opioid painkillers with reduced abuse potential.

The stimulus grant, one of the first funded through the National Institute of Drug Abuse, will support four current faculty and three staff members as well as fund three positions for either current staff or to-be-hired staff. “These funds will allow us to conduct several novel research projects that will answer important questions relating to prescription opioid abuse, a growing problem in Kentucky.  At the same time, we are using this money to stimulate the local economy by keeping people in jobs or making new hires,” Stoops says.

Experiencing research as an undergrad
A University of Kentucky program that provides research experience to undergraduate students received a three-year, $300,000 ARRA award from the National Science Foundation.

The Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) Program, based in the College of Engineering, brings undergraduates, who do not have the chance to do research in electrical and computer engineering at their home institutions, to UK for eight weeks. The NSF grant will provide support for 10 students during the summers of 2010, 2011 and 2012. These students will perform research with UK faculty, graduate students and research staff, and participate in field trips and workshops.

The REU program was active in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but was suspended in 2009 due to lack of funding. Past participants have come from New York, New Mexico and Puerto Rico, as well as from Kentucky’s regional and private universities. 

brainExposing the role of estrogen in brain development
Not only is UK physiologist Melinda Wilson conducting unique research in the rapidly growing field of epigenetics, she’s also fostering the next generation of scientists.

A three-year, $591,929 ARRA grant from the National Science Foundation will allow Wilson to explore the molecular mechanisms by which a critical gene, estrogen receptor-alpha, is regulated in the developing mouse brain. Early estrogen exposure causes long-term functional changes in the brain. Epigenetics is the study of changes in gene expression that are, unlike mutations, not attributable to alterations in the DNA sequence. Wilson will study the regulation of gene expression in the brain at different development stages.

“In addition to answering fundamental questions in developmental neuroscience, the impact of this work will be enhanced by the involvement of many undergraduate and graduate students, and will help to stimulate the careers of budding young scientists,” says Wilson, who has mentored 13 high school, undergrad and graduate students over the past six years. She adds that four scientists each year, including two undergrads, will take part in this project.