MU boasts record figures of grant money for 2009

Friday, July 9, 2010 | 6:08 p.m. CDT; updated 7:35 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 10, 2010

COLUMBIA — Researchers at MU displayed record levels of expenditures and awards for fiscal year 2009. 

MU spent more than $543 million in grant money during 2009 — an 11 percent increase from 2008 and 38 percent increase from five years ago. MU also attracted more than $573 million in awards, up from about $497 million in 2008, according to a news release from the MU News Bureau.

Throughout the fiscal year, MU applies for competitive grants from a variety of outside sources, including non-profit organizations such as the American Heart Association and federal organizations such as the National Institute of Health and the National Science Foundation. Funding also comes from for-profit organizations and state-sponsored programs.

Federal funding also came from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act — the stimulus bill. By the end of 2009, MU had received roughly $35 million from awards related to the bill.

The awards figures represent money MU has available for use. Because some grants do not have a particular time limit, the figures include funds received during the past several years. 

The expenditures figures refer to external grant money that was actually spent by MU for their grant-funded projects and contracts, according to the MU research report for 2009

Robert Duncan, vice chancellor for research at MU, said he believes the faculty members at the university were a major contributor to the high level of incoming grants.

“The rapid increase in growth is due primarily to the outstanding faculty at MU and the willingness of others around the world to invest in their research,” Duncan said.

He said the funding is being used for academic projects in four main areas; instruction and public service, research, academic enterprise and student financial aid.

The grants are used for projects in specific disciplines as well as interdisciplinary research among departments. Duncan said he thinks this cross-utilization is an important aspect of MU’s research efforts and an indicator of the collaborative faculty.

“Sometimes the most exciting new opportunities will come between disciplines and lead to projects that no one has thought of before,” Duncan said.

In May, MU received $8.47 million from the National Institutes of Health’s National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute to research the causes of cardiovascular diseases. According to the MU School of Medicine website, the grant will fund the exploration of the smallest blood vessels in the body, known as microcirculation.

The interdisciplinary project will involve more than 20 scientists across campus with nearly half the money going to the School of Medicine and the other half to researchers throughout the Dalton Center for Cardiovascular Research, Duncan said.

Along with research projects, Duncan said external funding is also important for supporting student financial aid and scholarships. Student financial aid has grown from less than $138 million in 2005 to more than $200 million in 2009, according to the MU research report.

The expenditures were also vital in improving the state economy through creating jobs, supporting staff salary and buying equipment from local distributors, Duncan said.

In March, the Missouri Division of Workforce gave MU more than $3 million of its stimulus money as part of a program to educate students on sustainable energy technology, according to another release from the MU News Bureau.

Moving research projects from the lab into the marketplace has also provided local economic benefit. In 2009, MU received more than $10 million from licensing income, and MU researchers filed 68 patent applications, according to the release.

Chris Fender, director of MU's Office of Technology Management and Industry Relations, said developing and licensing these new technologies has greatly impacted the university overall.

“In addition to the financial benefit, it increases the notoriety of our scientists and allows them to better compete for grant funding in the future,” Fender said.

One of these licenses includes an organ printing technology MU licensed to a company called Organovo. Gabor Forgacs, George H. Vineyard professor of theoretical physics at MU, developed a 3-D printer that creates cells to form tissue structures. Researchers and scientists expect the technology to be a huge platform in tissue engineering.

While Duncan is aware of the hindrance the recession might have on future grants, he remains optimistic and said he thinks training excellent students at MU will be essential in creating such opportunities.

“One very important way to recover from an economic recession is through innovation and discovery,” Duncan said.

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