Although the Fralin Life Science Institute has and will continue to support a spectrum of research initiatives in the life sciences, it consistently invests in five areas. These research areas include cancer biology, molecular plant sciences, obesity, infectious disease, and vector-borne disease. Institute investments in these areas include recruitment and set-up support for new faculty, retention and recognition of established faculty, seed funds for new research projects, equipment purchase, graduate student recruitment and support, undergraduate research support, and support of outreach activities.
Fralin Life Science Institute's commitment to cancer research is evident in its support of scientists studying numerous aspects of the disease, including environmental factors that may play a role in cancer initiation, molecular and cellular events leading to the deregulation of cellular functions, and discovery and application of creative and cutting-edge technologies for cancer treatment. The institute encourages collaboration among researchers from wide-raning backgrounds, including engineering, virology, biological sciences, and human nutrition, foods and exercise.
In 2009, Fralin Cancer Initiative Funds were used to establish the Fralin-VT Core Cancer Group, made up of Lead Investigators Elankumaran Subbiah, Chris Roberts, Dave Caudell, Liwu Li, and Carla Finkielstein. The group strengthens Virginia Tech's cancer resarch impact by traning undergraduate, gradaute and postdoctoral students in basic cancer research. The grouping of researchers from diverse backgrounds has led to new, multi-disciplinary research projects that tackle the cancer problem from an innovative and progressive standpoint.
Translational Plant Sciences
Since its beginnings as an incubator program in Fralin Hall, the plant sciences program at Virginia Tech has grown exponentially, branching out to acquire multiple faculty members and students and to find a permanent home in Latham Hall. Virginia Tech plant scientists use molecular biology skills, processes, and technologies to impact real world issues, including improvements in agricultural productivity, human health, and sustainable energy. With twenty faculty members from seven departments and three colleges devoted to work in this area, the program is truly multidisciplinary, with specialty in plant genomics, disease resistance, metabolic engineering, bioproduction, bioprocessing, and forest biotechnology.
In 2005, the plant sciences graduate program was initiated, allowing students to sample multiple research avenues before choosing a concentration in the second or third semesters. Already, current and former students have published in top-tier journals and presented at many national and international conferences. Fralin Life Science Institute has contributed to the success of the program by providing funding for faculty research, undergraduate, and gradaute student stipends, and equipment.
More than one-third of adults and nearly 17 percent of children and teens between the ages of 2 and 19 in the United States are considered to be obese. Obesity increases a person's chances of developing various diseases such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease, high-blood pressure, stroke, and cancer, and is considered a major public health concern.
Since 2000, Virginia Tech has made significant investments in obesity research. To further develop this initiative and advance the university's standing as a major contributor to obesity-related research and education, the Fralin Life Science Institute has contributed financial and administrative resources to solidify and complement the strengths of current faculty. Fralin has invested in faculty research, equipment and infrastructure needed for operations, and graduate and undergraduate training.
Today, obesity research at Virginia Tech focuses on the prevention and treatment of the condition using approaches such as the development and evaluation of new foods, the adoption of health-promoting behaviors to prevent illness and reduce health costs, the effect of nutrients on the initiation of cancer, the relationship between obesity and inflammation, and the effect of community and societal factors on obesity.
Influenza, HIV, Newcastle Disease and the common cold are just a few types of infectious disease rampant across the globe today. "Infectious disease" refers to an illness caused when a bacterial, viral, fungal or protozoan pathogen is spread via physical contact, contaminated food, body fluids, fomites, airborne inhalation or vector organisms. While the Fralin Life Science Institute Vector-Borne Research Group focuses on infectious diseases spread by arthropods, other Fralin researchers study ways that infectious diseases spread via animal, food, bacteria, and other types of human contact, and work towards the development of novel therapeutic approaches to ameliorate the effects of the transmission.
Vector-borne diseases are illnesses transmitted via blood-sucking arthropods, namely mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, lice and biting flies or mites. These diseases are a tremendous public health burden worldwide. Mosquito-borne viruses alone-- such as Malaria, West Nile, Chagas, Dengue fever and yellow fever-- infect hundreds of millions of people per year, with more than a billion people being at risk for these illnesses. The most common vector-borne diseases in Virginia, according to the Virginia Department of Health, are carried by mosquitoes and ticks and include Lyme Disease, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, West Nile Virus, and Eastern equine encephalitis.
With this in mind, and in accordance with Virginia Tech's strategic plan to become a preeminent center for excellence in vector-borne disease, the Fralin Life Science Institute assisted with the creation of the Vector-Borne Disease Research Group in 2005. Fralin funds were used to acquire the equipment and expertise needed to build a strong, cohesive research program. Today, approximately a dozen faculty members from the departments of chemistry, biochemistry, and entomology are involved with the group. They and their students work to elucidate the fundamental mechanisms involved in the transmission and pathogenesis of vector-borne infectious organisms and to lead the search for novel approaches to disease mitigation. Much of this research takes place in Fralin Hall, where a full-scale insectary, complete with worm room, dissection microscope and other essential equipment is located.