While in the hospital for a routine surgery, a patient contracts a bacterial superbug and dies; somewhere else in the world, a child dies due to contaminated water.
The UVA Global Infectious Diseases Institute and the Environmental Resilience Institute will be trying to prevent such tragedies—and attempting to tackle a long list of other problems, including the Ebola virus and coastal flooding.
The institutes, which officially launched in July, bring together top researchers from various departments. “You can’t plod along in a single discipline trying to solve some of these complex problems,” explains Karen McGlathery, director of the Environmental Resilience Institute. “You need the convergence of the disciplines to accelerate the rate at which we find solutions.”
The institutes are part of President Teresa Sullivan’s Cornerstone Plan, which includes the already-established Data Science Institute and Brain Institute. They will be under the guidance of new Vice President for Research Melur Ramasubramanian. A key component is the inclusion of graduate and undergraduate students, along with post-doctorate fellows. “We have to be training the next generation to think out of their disciplines,” McGlathery says, “and think outside of the box.”
Each institute has been funded with a three-year, $2 million grant from the University that will be used as seed money to pursue long-term external funding. At press time, the Environmental Resilience Institute had faculty members from all 11 schools, while the Global Infectious Diseases Institute had faculty members from eight.
“The institute is the matchmaker,” says Alison Criss (Grad ’02), director of the Global Infectious Diseases Institute, “to bring these people together under this umbrella for research activities that had been housed in specific departments or schools where people just didn’t even know each other. We have a lot of people who are seen as experts in their own fields, but as a whole UVA can now position itself to be a real go-to entity.”