Updates and Information on Coronavirus (COVID-19)
Skip to main content

KNOXVILLE — The University of Tennessee is launching a $280 million research initiative that could create 1,000 jobs and spawn at least 10 to 20 new Tennessee-based companies within five years, UT President J. Wade Gilley announced Friday.

The “Tennessee 21st Century Research Initiative” provides $60 million in state and university funds to nine research centers in Knoxville and Memphis. The nine centers are expected to attract at least $220 million in federal funding by 2006.

Estimates of job and business development are based on the experiences at other universities like Tennessee, Gilley said. The University of Alabama-Birmingham was cited as an institution that has significantly increased its research funding.

“The economy of the 21st century will be science-driven, knowledge-based and information technology-enabled,” Gilley said. “If Tennessee is to benefit from this new order, it is critical that the state-s flagship university be a major generator of inventions that will be manufactured by Tennessee companies.”

The five centers in Knoxville are in environmental biology; food safety; materials science; information technology; and structural biology.

Memphis has four centers, in genomics; neurology and brain disease; diseases of connective tissue; and vascular biology.
Gilley noted that several of the programs involve activities at multiple UT campuses.

Moving UT into the ranks of the nation-s top 25 research universities has been a major goal since Gilley came to UT 16 months ago. In February, the UT Board of Trustees approved the “Tennessee Plan for Academic Excellence” that called for a $120 million investment in research centers, with $30 million of that coming from the state.

“With the support of Gov. Don Sundquist and the General Assembly, we secured $7.5 million this year as the first increment of the state-s $30 million investment,” Gilley said.

“We are encouraged that the state will continue to make this level of investment in future years, and we are committed to combining this funding with the $30 million that we expect in administrative savings over the next five years.

“Investments like this now, even at a time when budgets are extremely tight, will produce long-term benefits for UT and the state. This approach is consistent with the proposal that we made to the Governor and General Assembly last session.”

The nine centers are slated to receive $11.2 million in the next year, but must match this funding on a 4-to-1 basis. Federal research grants will be a primary source of the funding, Gilley said.

The National Institutes of Health research budget increased $2.7 billion this year and is expected to double in five years, he said.

After two years, continuation funding will be based on a variety of factors including success in meeting the matching requirement.

“We also are pleased that many of the centers build on our strong partnerships with two of the state-s other major research operations – St. Jude Children-s Research Hospital in Memphis and Oak Ridge National Laboratory that UT operates in conjunction with Battelle Memorial Institute,” he said.

Knoxville centers, their directors and funding include:
-Information Technology Research Center, Dr. Jack Dongarra, $7 million.
-Environmental Biotechnology Center, Dr. Gary Sayler, $7 million.
-Food Safety Center, Dr. Stephen P. Oliver, $5 million.
-Structural Biology Center, Dr. Engin Serpersu, $5 million.
-Advanced Materials Center, Dr. Ward Plummer, $5 million.

The Memphis centers, their principal investigators and funding levels are:
-Genomics and Bioinformatics Center, Dr. Dan Goldowitz, $10 million.
-Neurobiology and Imaging of Brain Disease Center, Dr. S. T. Kitai, $7 million.
-Connective Tissues Diseases Center, Dr. Andrew H. Kang, $5 million.
-Vascular Biology Center, Dr. Lisa Jennings, $5 million.

Several of the centers also will involve faculty from other UT campuses. Collaborations between Memphis and Knoxville faculty will occur in the food safety and structural biology programs. Faculty at Knoxville, Memphis and Tullahoma will work on the genomics and bioinformatics effort, and the materials science center will utilize faculty at Knoxville and Tullahoma.

“We believe that each of these research teams is world class, and our review process confirmed that fact,” said Dr. Dwayne McCay, UT vice president for research and information technology. “These nine centers were selected after an arduous process that involved peer review.”

UT’s Office of Research and Information Technology received about 50 initial proposals for centers. After a preliminary review, invitations for full proposals on 22 ideas were extended.

A 10-person review committee of UT and outside personnel made the final selection on the basis of the technical review and other factors, including urgency, competitiveness, importance to the people of Tennessee and the possibility of related economic development.

McCay said that a marketing plan development effort is being launched to help those centers that were not funded in the initial round.

“We have many strong research teams at UT, and we want to help each of them be successful as they pursue funding for their activities,- he said. -Their long-term success not only helps UT but the state-s economy.”

Gilley said that the next phase of the process will begin soon and involve the selection of programs in the arts and humanities.

“We knew that significant additional federal funding was available in the sciences, so we planned this first phase to take advantage of these new opportunities,” he said. “However, we recognize the importance of the arts and humanities to society, and we intend to place a great deal of emphasis on these programs in phase two.”